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Frog (DGF80)

Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Tommy Johnson, Charlie Kyle, Will Shade, Minnie Wallace and, Hattie Hart

Frog Records don’t issue CDs on a particularly regular basis but when they do they are always worth some attention. Aside from being committed and knowledgeable champions of the early years of recorded jazz and blues themselves, they also are part of an enthusiastic network of collectors of original 78s and other rare recordings, all willing and able to loan and share their collections in pursuit of keeping extant great music from the past.

On this CD they have again delivered what they usually do - great sounding digitised versions of highly rare and classic sides, recovered from the best available source (often being the only copy found or known to still exist). And, when it comes to recorded blues, it doesn’t get more classic than this, featuring 25 stonking numbers from a number of true giants of Memphis blues.

Not least of these are 10 sides from Frank Stokes, rightly claimed in the notes to this CD as being the true uncrowned king of Memphis blues. On these tracks, either solo or in the company of Dane Sane (guitar) or Will Batts (violin), Stokes is, as always, magnificent. Fans of the great man will no doubt be particularly keen on previously unissued test pressings of 'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do (Parts 1 & 2)but all of the tracks featuring Stokes are sublime examples of powerful and mesmeric blues.

In total, around half of the tracks included here are previously unissued test pressings of historic sides. This includes two versions of Lonesome Home Blues by Tommy Johnson (not strictly a Memphis bluesman but a sufficiently regular visitor to Beale Street to be considered here without query), and four numbers by Jim Jackson (two versions of his classic I'm Gonna Move To Louisiana plus This Morning She Was Gone and This Ain't No Place For Me).

And, while this rare gold is enormously welcome, needless to say, the historicity of this music (for most of us) is the least of the reasons to give it any head-room. The sheer fact is that, rare or otherwise, these tracks are worthy of our attention because they constitute some of the very best early blues sides you can hope to find on record. If you’ve not previously heard the exuberance and swing of the Memphis Jug Band behind Minnie Wallace (on Dirty Butter and The Old Folks Started It) or Hattie Hart (on Won't You Be Kind To Me?), this is a pretty good place to catch up.

A splendid addition to Frog’s already impressive catalogue of CDs and unreservedly recommended. And, if this is not enough, word has it that the long-anticipated 4th issue of the Frog Jazz & Blues Annual is due in from the printers very shortly. Look out for details on our forthcoming between-catalogue release sheets or pre-order your copy now and we will send it as soon as it arrives.

Review Date: June 2015

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