Sunday, December 9, 2012

William Robertson - South Georgia Blues

This is an unusual LP in many ways. It appears on a label whose distribution is pretty much limited to the Southern US, to put it optimistically. Southland have a few other blues albums out by Drink Small Furry Lewis. Roosevelt Svkes and Robert Pete Williams, but otherwise it is mainly a Dixieland jazz label.
The artiste featured here is a recent discovery of Jim Pettigrew's and was recorded for this LP by George Mitchell. In his mid-fifties, he lives near Plains, Ga, in a small country shack with no running water or electricity. As Mitchell's notes tell us, he and his wife survive on 'the tiny disability check he receives each month' for a serious back injury he suffered a few years ago. He is very superstitious and would not let a picture of him appear on the record cover for fear that someone might turn it face down and kill him. And William Robertson is a nom-de-disque used for similar reasons.
He is an excellent acoustic guitarist, but his voice will surprise you and may even put you off. On 'Frolicking' it is high-pitched and almost reedy, but he can play on low-pitched effects all of a sudden: it may sound weird, although I'm quite sure that it is not random. The song itself is reminiscent of Henry Thomas's' Don't Leave Me Here' with words that seem to come also from 'Big Leg Woman' (whether he's heard John Hurt's version or another is anybody's guess). 'Lucy Mae' must have been taken from Frankie Lee Sims, although it is brought down to basics and I can hear overtones of Charley Patton, Furry Lewis and Tommy Johnson. The excellent ending displays his talents as a guitarist.
'Hooks' is sung in a strangled voice: whether it is a style he has inherited or developed is hard to tell but it reminds one of field hollers. 'Baby Please' sounds a lot like Robert Pete Williams, but the resemblance is certainly fortuitous: actually the best way to describe William Robertson would be to mention this name, the only reference mark of any possible value for this artiste.
'Big Legged' is close to Bukka White's 'Shake 'Em On Down'. 'William Robertson's Blues', an original, displays rather wild singing, painful at times, moaning, a cross between cawing and bleating. Again, the general format of the piece is close to Robert Pete Williams. 'Lucky Mama' is an extremely low-pitched version of 'It's Alright Mama 'and comes closest to classic blues tradition. 'Talk' is rather tedious and the least interesting track on the record. 'Root', another original, is basically a talking blues about 'root curest and will take a few plays before you can grasp every word of it. 'True Love' is less interesting lyrically and a bit monotonous rhythmically, the latter remark holds true for most of the numbers to some extent: binary rhythms rule supreme.
All in all, Robertson's music mainly because of his vocal inflexions - which may be deemed African, Afro-American or simply idiosyncratic - will never be more than an acquired taste. His guitar playing, on the other hand needs no getting used to: it is excellent throughout, controlled and steeped in tradition. And Robertson is also a mine of traditional verse doublets, even if his style of delivery distorts words and rushes syllables close together for effect. While it cannot be recommended unreservedly for obvious reasons it is worth a listen if you are a student of folk music and can get hold of it.

William Robertson is also known as Cecil Barfield


Anonymous said...

doesn't sound like any country blues I heard.

goinsidemyhead said...

....pretty amazing and somewhat unusual...its like William Roberston has no influences outside his immediate world...this is the natural unblemished folk sound of an original...pretty cool.

Xyros said...

I can remember the 1st time I listened to it and couldnt believe my ears. The man has a style that's like no other. After a couple of listens it grew on me and has remained one of my favorite blues lp's.

Anonymous said...

thank you very much. cecil barfield is great, unique guitar player who transcends genre. been looking for this for a while.

Anonymous said...

Man so much obscure shit on this site I love it so much and can spend way to long browsing, D/L and then I make them into CD's I call the The Vinyl Rip Issues - Rare As Hen's Teeth. I'm an anal nerd like that hahah!!!!