Piedmont blues is a style of music that originated in the Carolina tabacco fields earlier this century. It is part country blues, part ragtime, and a little bit of gospel. A National Steel guitar is the instrument most identified with this style with an accompanying harmonica for good measure. Piedmont differs from Delta blues in that Piedmont is more of a celebration of life whereas Delta blues is more often than not a down and out lament.
Mike Lightnin' Wells is an interpreter of this music. He is carrying on a tradition which started with people like Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Elizabeth Cotton, Blind Willie McTell, and the Reverend Gary Davis. This disc is over an hour long with 19 tunes. It's just Wells singing and finger picking on his National Steel. It is an amazing recording by someone who's been playing this style of music his entire life.
Wells takes the listener on a musical odyssey with "Ragtime Millionaire." He pays special homage to Blind Boy Fuller by covering four of his songs. Fuller was the most popular of the pre-war Piedmont pickers. There are three instrumentals on the disc including a tune called "Blue Day Blues" by the popular duo Cephas & Wiggins. I mention this because Cephas & Wiggins are also carrying on the tradition with a brand new release on the Alligator label called "Homemade."
Highlights, and there are many, include a beautiful version of Elizabeth Cotton's classic "Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie." I first heard of this song when the Dead covered it back in 1980. There is a happy little ditty called "I'll Be Coming Home Every Saturday Night" by Virginia native Turner Foddrell. There is also a number of traditional songs listed. When I see the word "traditional" I figure it means nobody really knows where the song came from. One such song is "Cross The River Jordan" which is a haunting ballad with Wells playing a bottleneck slide reminding me of the great acoustic guitarist Roy Rogers. Another traditional "Beautiful City" finally has Wells playing a little harmonica.
Wells is doing the blues community a great service by keeping songs like these alive. His previous recording "Bullfrog Blues" was equally excellent. This music is a throw back to an earlier era. But because we live in a high tech world I recommend you get this CD either by ordering it at your local record store or by punching up www.newmoonmusic.com on your computer. If you're a fan of acoustic blues you will absolutely love this recording.
- Bill Harriman