Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, July 05, 2005
ED BELL : “MAMLISH BLUES 1927-1930” CD.....

After hearing ED BELL’s soulful 78rpm pre-war blues for the first time on “Times Ain’t Like They Used To Be, Vol. 7”, I posted an entreaty to Agony Shorthand readers for more info on this stellar enigma, and was quickly directed to this 100% complete collection of the man’s entire works. Bell also recorded under the names “Barefoot Bill” and “Sluefoot Joe” – at least blues scholars think so, but the liner notes to this admit that at least half the collection has the potential to not be Ed Bell. Well, I think the guy who created the excellent “Mamlish Blues” and “Hambone Blues” in 1927 is probably the same fella who recorded in 1928-30 under those two other names. The vocals are similar, the style is that deep-worn but sometimes bouncy BLIND WILLIE McTELL-ish blues, but the quality just isn’t up to the same standard as his first couple of 78s. It’s not just that the recording quality is awful – though it is. In fact, you know how a lot of these pre-war releases carry stern warnings about the quality of the transfers, e.g. “We have made every effort to preserve sound quality but these records are so fucking old, blah blah blah.....”? This CD doesn’t carry such a warning, but “House Top Blues” and “Rocky Road Moan” sound like a stylus dragging across a pile of gravel while some blues guy plays down the road about a mile away. Kinda jarring, to say the least. By 1929-30 Bell was a third- or fourth-stringer by anyone’s measure, but his earliest stuff is top shelf. An added bonus is the one and only 78 from his co-conspirator PILLIE BOLLING, tacked onto the end of this Document CD. “Brown Skin Woman” and “Shake It Like a Dog” are two you’ll definitely want to add to your collection of first-string, lowdown, crackling deep country blues.