Take Me to the Water

by

a1188638747_2Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950, edited by Jim Linderman, Luc Sante (Dust-to-Digital)

reviewed by Justin Brooks (www.popmatters.com):

Absolutely none of these cuts should be familiar to the average person. All apologies to my distant relatives The Carter Family, but “Denomination Blues, Part 1” by Washington Phillips is the only track on this compilation that I’d ever actually heard before. A good deal of the artists were familiar to me by way of my immersion (sorry, couldn’t help myself) in Dust-to-Digital’s staggering Goodbye, Babylon box. Evoking that former release, the compilers make no effort to segregate the music in any way: string bands and hillbilly hollers jostle grittier blues and folk numbers for breathing room.

 

Unlike Babylon though, the sermons included here are interspersed throughout, making for a slightly more diverse listening experience. While we are on the subject, this reviewer sees Take Me to the Water as-among other thing-a beautifully packaged addendum to the already splendid Goodbye, Babylon.

 

There are 25 tracks on the disc that accompanies this set and quite frankly, most of them are jewels. As with any compilation or proper album, a certain song may strike you just the right way on a particular day, so with material of this quality, the best cuts ultimately depend on the listener.

 

Washington Phillips, a ‘jack-leg preacher’ of the first degree, is represented here with “Denomination Blues Part 1”, in which his delicate vocal is accompanied by a strange zither-esque “novelty instrument.”  This cut may be the catchiest pre-war gospel/blues since Skip James’ “Jesus is a Mighty Good Leader.”  Now that may mean a little or a lot, depending on how far down the rabbit-hole of this kind of music you want to go.

 

By far the most popular artist represented here is The Carter Family, whose “On My Way to Canaan’s Land” may just be an artistic representation of Mother Maybelle’s actual baptism. Classic call and response of the hillbilly variety is accounted for too with the Carolina Tar Heels’ “I’ll Be Washed”.  The intermingling of the sermon fragments—which often break out in song—with the tunes is a sly move on the part of the compilers, as the preachers’ intonations always take on a rhythmic quality and the fiery intensity helps move these pieces, and the set itself, forward.

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