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The sound of sophistication

Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953
Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953
By Bill Bill Broonzy

Munich Records: 2006

This review first appeared in Turbula in October 2006.

With just an acoustic guitar and his vocal cords, late blues pioneer Big Bill Broonzy is often categorized as a rural blues musician. Truth is, he was from the Mississippi Delta; sang a ton of traditional spirituals and blues, too.

But what that description of Broonzy misses is how very sophisticated his talent was. During a thirty-year career, Broonzy performed with everyone from Benny Goodman to Louis Armstrong to most of the blues greats of his age.

On a newly issued two-disc set recorded in 1953 in the Netherlands, Broonzy is back in his original element: sitting in front of an appreciative audience with just his guitar and that powerful, gorgeous singing voice of his.

Recorded just a few years before his death from cancer, this collection finds Broonzy in full artistic blossom: confident, in control, gregarious. He talks between songs, explaining them to the audience, or just introducing them.

But mostly he plays and sings – blues chestnuts like "John Henry" and "Trouble in Mind" and "Down by the Riverside," but also pop nuggets like "Good Night Irene" (albeit written by Broonzy contemporary Leadbelly) and "Glory of Love" and some of his own songs, too, like "Just a Dream."

And while most live recordings excise much of the inter-song patter in the interests of radio-friendly song-oriented tracks, having Broonzy's conversations with the audience add to the "concert" feeling of this set.

The information booklet is informative and nicely illustrated, the sound quality remarkably clean. Given Broonzy's crucial role in the development of the blues, this album will quickly find its place as a must-have part of his recorded output.