Johnny Shines – Standing At The Crossroads – Testament (1970)/ Pure Pleasure vinyl

by | Nov 23, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Johnny Shines – Standing At The Crossroads – Testament T-2221 (1970)/ Pure Pleasure Records (2013) – 180-gram audiophile stereo vinyl, 36:34 ****1/2:

(Johnny Shines – guitar, vocals)

There are many Delta blues legends. Many of them are household names, like Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters to name a few. But the legacy of this unbelievable genre is deep-rooted and boasts a plethora of lesser-known but talented performers. One of these is Johnny Shines. Born in Tennessee, Shines was influenced by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Charley Patton and of course, Howlin’ Wolf. By 1935, he had established himself on the blues circuit, as a street “juke” performer.  He traveled and performed with Robert Johnson for nearly two years. After unsuccessful recording ventures at Columbia and Chess, he abandoned his dream of recording and took a construction job. The mid-sixties Chicago blues revival, re-invigorated Shines, introducing him to a new generation of fans. In November of 1970 with Pete Welding he recorded an exceptional album of blues music.

Standing At The Crossroads is a tour de force of bottleneck acoustic blues. A pure art form, this recording (originally released on Testament Records) has been re-mastered (Ray Staff) for Pure Pleasure Records on 180-gram audiophile vinyl. The opening title cut is a near perfect fusion of bottleneck guitar and soulful blues vocals. “Death Hearse Blues” slows the blues down a bit and Shines responds with effervescent slide and pick solos. The evocative link to gospel is prevalent, especially on “Drunken Man’s Prayer”. Subtle touches, like a “picked” ending provide a colorful backdrop to this session.  The “foot-stomping” energy of these songs is always prevalent. “Hoo-Doo Snake Doctor Blues” features a mournful vocal and deft, fluid slide licks.

Blues music means trials and tribulations, as evidenced by the extended (at least for this album) version of “Your Troubles Can’t Be Like Mine”. While the inevitable correlation to Robert Johnson has been overused, Shines’ cover of “Kind-Hearted Woman” is terrific. He lets it all hang out with some falsetto and a blistering amalgamation of rhythm chords and individual notation. “My Rat” has some familiar runs, but with a touch of humor. The last bit of cautionary wisdom unfolds on “Don’t Take A Country Woman”, which showcases a flashy slide conclusion.

Pure Pleasure Records has managed to capture the raw acoustics of blues music and elevate it with modern technology. The tonal quality and clarity of the guitar and bottleneck slide are superior. Shines’ reedy voice sounds rich and powerful. The liner notes provide some significant details on this blues legend and some technical recording information (For example, all of the bottleneck-accompanied guitar tunings are open-G, except for one track).

Standing At The Crossroads is a classic recording, and worthy of any blues collection.

TrackList:
Side 1: Standing At The Crossroads; Milk Cow’s Troubles; Death Hearse Blues; Drunken Man’s Prayer; Hoo-Doo Snake Doctor Blues; It’s A Lowdown Dirty Shame
Side 2: Your Troubles Can’t Be Like Mine; Kind-Hearted Woman; Baby Sister Blues; My Rat; Don’t Take A Country Woman

—Robbie Gerson

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