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January 22, 2008

Son House: Live At The Gaslight Cafe, New York, January 3, 1965

Filed under: Hype,Music — tha rhythm tha rebel @ 11:03 am

[Document Records; 2000]

You know, there’s two types of the blues: there’s the blues, and there’s Son House’s blues. There’s just something about his playing, something between the percussive slide guitar and grumbling vocals. Something very eerie that makes listening to his music an almost uncomfortable yet utterly compelling experience.

Son House began recording in 1930 and by the early 1940s he had become a well-known blues player, but after recording with Alan Lomax from the Liberty Congress in 1942 he retired from the music busisness and moved to Rochester, New York. During the country blues revival of the 1960s his music was popular once again and Son House came out of retirement to tour America and Europe. Many critics had suggested that the flame had gone out in Son House’s playing and his heart was no longer in it, how wrong they were.

This album was recorded live in 1965 at the Gaslight Cafe in New York. It surely has to be one of the most intense and haunting solo performances ever recorded. Songs of hope and desperation, heartbreak and mourning, with House’s squealing guitar cutting through the tension and suspense to create something unlike anything I’ve heard before. The music seems so delicate and measured whilst being delivered straight from the heart with such strength and weary composure. Every second feels sacred and you dare not even breathe even though you know this happened over 40 years ago in a cafe hundreds of miles away. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and you’re not sure why.

The man who mumbles introductions to the songs is clearly not the same man who is playing the music, he is a different person as if possessed by the power of the blues. This album is far from a live greatest hits, although you could be forgiven for thinking so by looking at the setlist. All of House’s most popular numbers are there, but the stand out track is “Levee Camp Blues”. The thumping rhythm of House’s guitar mixed with the strained pinging of the slide puts you in a trance and before you know it the song’s over, 8 minutes later. I defy anybody to listen to this album without being hypnotised and transported back into that cafe in New York 40 years ago.

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