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Keeping the Piedmont school alive

Shoulder to Shoulder
Shoulder to Shoulder
By Cephas and Wiggins

Alligator Records: 2006

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This review first appeared in Turbula in October 2006.

Among the last original performers of the Piedmont style of blues, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins are also among the last of their generation of guitar-harmonica duos – a style of American music that traces itself back a century or more.

On a new album from Alligator Records, the now-veteran duo continues to carry forth the musical traditions of the Viriginia-Carolina region that spawned the Piedmont style (made famous in earlier generations by Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry, and the Rev. Gary Davis). Quick, lithe guitar lines from Cephas (but never showy) and broken-chord lines on harp by Wiggins create a distinctive sound – even on the handful of songs written by others.

The two are joined on this outing by pianist Ann Rabson (of Saffire: The Uppity Blueswomen) for half the tracks, and she lends a fatter sound without actually changing the dynamic.

With five songs written or co-written by Cephas, covers of songs by Sleepy John Estes and Jesse Fuller, and the two men still in their musical prime, "Shoulder to Shoulder" is a heck of a treat for blues fans – or anyone who likes traditional acoustic music.