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Arhoolie (ARHCD545)

Lightnin’ Hopkins, Maddox Bros. & Rose, Mance Lipscomb, George Lewis, Clifton Chenier, Flaco Jiménez, Pine Leaf Boys, Big Mama Thornton, Lydia Mendoza, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Treme Brass Band, Los Alegres De Terán, Mercy Dee Walton, New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra,  Ry Cooder, Wilson & Joel Savoy, and more…

This fabulous set has been issued as a complementary soundtrack to a forthcoming documentary film about Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie Records. This film was built around trips made a few years ago re-tracing the field trips Chris undertook on setting up the label in 1960 to find, record and promote the artists that would ultimately become part of the Arhoolie story.

Inclusive of 38 fantastically well recorded selections from the extensive Arhoolie archives, this includes quite a few tracks that are now made available for the very first time.

From the country blues artists that would have first brought many of us into contact with Arhoolie all the way through gospel, country, folk, vintage jazz, Tex-Mex, Cajun and zydeco and more, these sides are a veritable treasure trove and an essential selection for anyone with a serious interest in having a collection of American music to be proud of.

Many of the blues sides that make up a good deal of CD 1 may already be relatively well known but it is always worth hearing again the tasty guitar and unmistakable vocals of Lightnin’ Hopkins on Bald Headed Woman, Fred McDowell’s authoritative and propulsive Write Me A Few Of Your Lines and Big Joe Williams Sloppy Drunk Blues.

Much of the strength of this set however is the space it sets aside for other musical styles that Arhoolie has done so much to promote and sustain over the years. While a diverse collection, the overall quality standard is exceptional and I have found a whole heap of new favourites that would have been missed without this set. The swinging Czech polka music of the Joe Patek Orchestra on The Shiner Song is a hitherto unexpected delight, as is the old world charm evoked by the New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra on Creole Belles. And Clifton Chenier’s blend of blues and zydeco never disappoints and he is in fine form here on both Louisiana Blues and Bye Bye Mo Neg.

It is however the lesser known Tex-Mex tracks that have thrilled me the most. The instrumental Nuestro Amor by Santiago Jiménez Jr (Flaco’s brother) is a beautifully paced delight and it is easy to see why Chris Strachwitz was so keen to get some historic recordings from Lydia Mendoza licensed to the label. Her Mal Hombre from 1934 is a rare inclusion here of a track not actually recorded by Arhoolie but the exceptional consideration this has received here is manifestly justified.

And accompanying the marvellous music on offer, the pack comes with a tremendous 32 page full-colour booklet inclusive of Chris Strachwitz’s own recollections and thoughts on each artist featured and often the circumstances under which these recordings were made.

I'm not sure at this time if and when the documentary will become available to buy on DVD but if the visualisation of the story is anywhere near as good as it appears here in audio, then it will be quite a production.


Review Date: October 2014

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