Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Blind Lemon Jefferson

  • King of the Country Blues [Yazoo, 1984] A-
  • The Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Blind Lemon Jefferson: Reborn and Remastered [World Music Network, 2013] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

King of the Country Blues [Yazoo, 1984]
In part Jefferson's prestige was a function of pop process--he made relatively accessible records for a relatively powerful company. What was revelatory about his music was its formal master, its eloquent lyrics and integral structures. In the absence of Blind Willie Johnson's big voice or Charlie Patton's emotive incorrigibility, that master does date some, especially because Jefferson was so ill-recorded, which Yazoo's best efforts can minimize but not mitigate. Also, I miss "Black Snake Moan" and glumly note the melodic leap that occurs when we come across the gospel number. Nevertheless, this is a document that rewards close attention with unparalleled pleasures. Making Jefferson a not atypical songpoet. A-

The Rough Guide to Blues Legends: Blind Lemon Jefferson: Reborn and Remastered [World Music Network, 2013]
Early blues' biggest male hitmaker--which means at the very least that Paramount recorded him a lot--has long been uncopyrighted, and this selection comes tagging behind the Yazoo CD that shortened the Yazoo double-LP and more European completism than any nonspecialist need explore. A solid singer and facile guitarist, Jefferson was also a mortal songwriter whose dynamic range can weary subconnoisseurs pretty quick--for most of us, one CD is enough. That said, the sound here is fuller and clearer than what competition I've been able to A-B, and why Yazoo omitted "Black Snake Moan" is the kind of mystery only aging blues boys understand. Most of the time Jefferson plays the rounder's role, but since what he really was was a pro, he rose or sunk occasionally to Christian grace, as in the ineffable "I Want to Be Like Jesus in My Heart." Moreover, Jefferson is only half this package. The bonus disc is one I missed, Rough Guide to Country Blues Pioneers, a refreshingly nonconnoisseur selection that leads with Big Bill Broonzy's sophisticated "Long Tall Mama" and ends with Sam Collins's lilting "My Road Is Rough and Rocky" while venturing post-1931 only to include Leadbelly, Memphis Minnie, and Robert Johnson, all of whom you'll welcome aboard. A