White – Josh at Midnight – Ekectra/Ramseur vinyl

by | Aug 26, 2016 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

White – Josh At Midnight – Electra EKL-102 (1956)/Ramseur RAM1-811 (2016) mono vinyl ****1/2:

This is a great vinyl remastering of an iconic blues artist!

(Josh White – guitar, vocals; Sam Gary – vocals; Al Hall – bass)

In the annals of American country blues, there was no greater influence than Josh White. He transcended music and became a cultural icon. Among his achievements, he was the first African-American singer/guitarist to star in Hollywood films, Broadway and various segregated hotels. His record “One Meatball” was the first African-American hit to garner one million sales. White was active  in civil rights (he was an “advisor” to Franklin Delano Roosevelt) and in an unprecedented event, performed at the White House in 1941. He survived blacklisting (which ruined many Hollywood careers) (with significant career implications), and enjoyed some crossover success, especially with the blues-conscious rock and roll scene. His energetic singing and guitar histrionics (including pre-Hendrix playing with his teeth) became legendary.

Rammer records has released an audiophile re-mastered version of Josh At Midnight. Initially released on Electra in 1956, the album is a joyful, expansive look at American folk, blues and gospel. The sparse arrangements frame a musical talent and charismatic performer. Side 1 opens with a rhythmic cover of a jazz/blues standard, “St. James Infirmary”. With a near honky-tonk vitality, White breathes life into the mysterious Irish anecdotal refrain on mortality. He is joined by the deep baritone voice of Sam Gary. With gospel fervor and playfulness, the two exchange in a spirited call and response. The comic undertones and chemistry with Gary are evident on “Scandalize My Name”.

White’s instrumental prowess is impressive. The Delta-inspired religious “Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” is evocative and spiritual. His nimble guitar is complemented by the stellar doublebass of All Hall. He expresses the personal exaltation religion. White is musically versatile, and creates a train pulse for the “road gang” number, “Timber (Jerry The Mule)”. Switching to more urban context, “Jelly Jelly!” adopts a traditional blues arrangement with artistic note-bending verve and a slower vampy bass line.

Things don’t get better than the first track on Side B. “One Meat Ball” is the quintessential Josh White song. With the anecdotal folksiness (“…you gets no bread with one meatball…”) and accessible style, it is joyful and catchy. Perhaps more amazing is the evolution of this obscure 1850 ditty into a trademark blues song. White’s guitar playing and cool, soulful vocals are inspired. Picking up the tempo, the church favorite, “Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho” is foot-stomping Sunday bliss. Gary shines with his Paul Robeson timbre. Whether it’s a slow jazz with swing transition (“Don’t Lie Buddy”) or pure spiritual declaration (“Takin’ Names”), White hits the mark. His take on low-down blues (“Number Twelve Train”) is flawless and contains a nimble guitar solo.

This vinyl 180-gram re-mastering by Bernie Grundman is excellent. White’s vocals are captured with broad tonality. Gary’s baritone is smooth. The guitar acoustics are precise and the doublebass is weaved subtilely into the lower end of the mix. The original liner notes by Electra Records’ founder and Kenneth S. Goldstein are informative. Josh At Midnight is a terrific album and an integral part of the American musical landscape.


Side1: St. James Infirmary; Raise A Ruckus; Scandalize My Name; Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed; Timber (Jerry The Mule); Jelly Jelly!
Side 2: One Meat Ball; Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho; Don’t Lie Buddy; Number Twelve Train; Peter; Takin’ Names

—Robbie Gerson

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