Now it’s not every day that you find a Turkish band using their skills to reimagine old blues songs from the likes of LeadBelly, JB Lenoir, and even older…yet here we have just that. Called The Old Ramblers, this three-piece has put together some lesser-known but wonderful early blues and put their modern twist on them without taking away the rawness and elemental feel of the originals. Electric guitars are employed occasionally but this is the only nod to the modern sounds as there are no drums: the percussion comes from the bass and acoustic body…plus the judicious use of maracas! So, you’re invited on a journey to times gone by and you may just Find Me On The Road Sometime.
Opening track, Bourgeoise Blues, is interestingly shown as a co-write with Alan Lomax on the sleeve notes; Lomax was responsible for the Library of Congress recordings and his work discovered, preserved and brought to wider attention the vitality and importance of the field songs and early bluesmen of the American (mainly) Southern states. I know the song via the country blues mastery of the other name…Huddy Ledbetter or LeadBelly as he was better known. Huddy actually appears three times which shows how important his work was…and not just for writing Gallis Pole which some band or other turned into Gallows Pole. Anyway, the country/bluegrass feel is there; harp, acoustic, bass and maracas doing a good washboard impression. The electric solo is subtle and works well as does the harp solo…by the way the pronunciation of ‘bourgeoise’ is accurate from the original.
Diddie Wah Diddie is the Arthur Blake song but known by the more recognisable moniker of Blind Blake. This one again is pretty faithful and wholly recognisable and either the harp is overdubbed or Orhun has a very adaptable mouth! Good Morning Little School Girl is listed as by A.Miller…I think this refers to the real name of Sonny Boy Williamson II, whereas I thought (and a search of my blues CDs seems to confirm) it was Sonny Boy Williamson I (or John Lee Curtis Williamson to use his given name) who wrote it…not important; it is a brilliant song with so many versions out there (Paul Rodgers gets my vote) that its origin is not relevant here. The Old Ramblers do a good job keeping the more countrified origins and the bass line is the star on this one, although the electric solo is neat too. This sounds most like the Big Joe Williams version which is a good thing.
My Fat Gal, written by Merle Travis, probably would be up against the PC police today but, it’s written tongue in cheek and the band leave out the most ‘offensive’ verses from the original. True to its country and western origins the band keep it light and lilting; the acoustic solo is a highlight and sound nearly banjo but in a good way. Saturday Blues by Ishman Bracey is one of those 20s bluesmen who left a brief but significant mark on early recordings…I know of only sixteen, all in the delta crossed country blues style, and this is one of his better ones as it is more delta and the skills on show by Türker make this a favourite.
Shame Shame is a more recent (1963) song from Jimmy Reed and the train track rhythm is always a good ‘un. The slide guitar is well placed and thought out and the bass solo is something rare and welcome. Slowdown by the great JB Lenoir isn’t quite his masterpiece (I’d choose Voodoo Blues for that) but it is a fine country blues that typified JB. Another well played and honest interpretation. Take This Hammer was a ‘traditional’ prison song that LeadBelly took and made his own in such a delightful way…the lyrics may be familiar to Joey B fans even if you haven’t heard this song. Such a good song by almost anyone (Spencer Davis Group is one of the better) and hugely enjoyable here. Travelling Railroad Man provided the basis for many songs that followed and its nice to hear the original, original done so sympathetically.
Imagine if Socrates Drank The Conium ever did acoustic blues…it would sound like this. Viola Lee (usually appended with ‘Blues’) was written by Noah Lewis for his own Jug Band but released by the better know Cannon Jug Stompers…whatever, here they don’t blow across the mouth of moonshine jugs, just a faithful and pleasing rendition. Ry Cooder did a great version too.
For the final track, we’re back with Huddie as his version of a traditional ploughing song, Whoa Back Buck, and this version conjures up the precise mood for which this was written…pure pre-war celebratory song give due deference. This album is full of curiosities as a Turkish trio takes on the early blues: sure English isn’t Sarp’s primary language but even the great LeadBelly was often difficult to decipher and these guys should be applauded for their bringing this early country blues to wider attention.
There may not be any earth-shatteringly different but they do bring sharpness and naivety to the raw originals. Do seek out the Lomax field recordings…they’re eye-opening and educational as well as huge fun for any blues fan and, The Old Ramblers have been kind enough to list their catalogue numbers on the sleeve notes (in case you were wondering what those codes meant).
Bluesdoodles rating: an album that is intriguing and welcoming and is a Great Listening addition to any true blues collection.