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  Listen Up! 11/6/03 Listen Up!

Thursday, Nov. 6

Blind Willie McTell, “Statesboro Blues,” Bluebird Records. “Nobody ever sang the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” sang Bob Dylan in one of his most memorable songs of the last 20 years. True confession time: I’ve never before today heard Blind Willie McTell, or if I have, I’ve completely forgotten the experience. So, is this a revelation? Well, it’s a pleasure, but I can’t say I’m understanding exactly what Dylan was meaning. I guess the words “Blind Lemon Jefferson” or “Robert Johnson” or “Charley Patton” just didn’t fit rhythmically as well as “Blind Willie McTell.” But, let’s focus on the pleasures. McTell had a strong, reedy voice, high pitched and focused. He sang the blues without a lot of variation, to judge from the 17 songs here, but this collection never sags in energy. (It should be pointed out that to fill out this collection, which only includes the recordings McTell made for Victor Records, there are three duets with a female singer, and a couple of cuts with other singers that feature McTell on guitar.) His guitar playing, while not as upfront in the mix as I’d like it to have been, is supple and supportive. Maybe he wasn’t the very finest ever, but he was damn good.

--Steve Pick

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