Blind Willie Johnson

Compilation Reviews:

2004: King of Guitar Evangelists [Blues Saga No. 3]

King of Guitar Evangelists [Blues Saga No. 3]

Rating: 3.5/10
Rated as
: Collection
Compilation Status: Newbie Baiting
Released: 2004
Recorded: 1927–1930
Specific Genre: Acoustic Texas Blues
Main Genre: Blues, Acoustic Blues
: Spirituals
Label: Saga

1. I’m Gonna Run to the City of Refuge 2. Jesus Is Coming Soon 3. Lord I Just Can’t Keep from Crying 4. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning 5. You’ll Need Somebody on Your Bond 6. When the War Was On 7. Praise God I’m Satisfied 8. Take Your Burden to the Lord 9. Can’t Nobody Hide from God 10. The Rain Don’t Fall on Me 11. The Soul of a Man 12. I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole 13. Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed 14. It’s Nobody’s Fault but Mine 15. Motherless Children Have a Hard Time 16. Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground 17. If I’d Had My Way I’d Tear the Building Down 18. Let Your Light Shine on Me 19. God Don’t Never Change 20. Bye and Bye I’m Going to See the King 21. Sweeter as the Years Roll By 22. God Moves on the Water

I just can’t keep from crying sometimes

As terrific as every single one of these 22 tracks is, these 70 minutes face the same problem as literally every other compilation of Blind Willie Johnson’s work that doesn’t have „complete“ somewhere in the moniker: There are tracks missing. Eight, in this case.

Johnson recorded thirty sides, that is, fifteen (double-sided) 78s, as it were. All of them do not fit on one CD, true, but there’s terrific double-CD issues. How in the world keep those incomplete single discs popping up? I can see why someone would want to issue a „highlight“ compilation, with just, say, fifteen tracks instead of all of them (and I wouldn’t really know how to decide what the highlights are, but that’s not the problem here). But this is where this compilation goes especially awry: 22 tracks are here, this means nearly his entire catalogue, but not quite. This puts you in the fun position of having to spend more money on a double issue with the feeling you’re paying for just eight more tracks. Nonsense! You (hopefully) pay for some of the greatest blues recorded, so do yourself a favour and go buy The Complete Blind Willie Johnson (Legacy label).

Though it seems weird at first, at least the track order is explainable: The Saga Blues series follows a pretty stubborn concept of representing „two different facets“ of each artist they issue: Lead Belly’s entry into the series (Blues and Folk Singer), for instance, is split into a „bluesman“ and a „songster“ part. Here, they do the split according to „With His Wife“ and „Alone With God“. This just means that the first eleven songs are accompanied by the eerie and fey soprano of his wife, while the remaining eleven songs are Johnson and his guitar unaccompanied. Within each of the two „set lists“, the songs are ordered according to their recording dates. This chronology and separation of records with and without his wife is completely artificial, as he recorded several 78s that featured one song with and one without her. Consequently, this leads to the fact that some of the original 78s here are split up, while all the others play in a row (as they were originally recorded and published). This is silly. The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t come up with completely arbitrary a priori-„concepts“ to issue compilations.

Sadly, compiler Gérard Herzhaft – an absolute expert of the blues, mind you – does not share his thoughts behind the track selection with us in his liner notes. I can’t see a system. It’s possible that he ended up with this because he had to pick an even number of records with and without Johnson’s wife, as the „concept“ dictated. But frankly, I won’t be researching this now.

Either way, if you for some reason refuse to the idea of owning all thirty songs by Blind Willie Johnson, this budget release will do as good as any.