You can only admire a man who has devoted his time to musical heritage and beyond: Andy Cohen not only immersed himself in the music that became the cornerstone for everything that followed (Willie Walker, Lemon Jefferson, Lead Belly, Reverend Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy, Skip James, Bukka White, Reverend Robert Wilkins, Brownie McGhee) but he also went on to study and gain a Masters Degree in Anthropology and his work was published in “Ramblin’ On My Mind: New Perspectives on the Blues” in 2008. By the way, he is also a mean guitar player in the finger style and can also turn his hand to preserving and promoting a little-known instrument called a Dolceola – it resembles a miniature piano, but is in fact a zither with a keyboard and suits the gospel side of Andy’s music majestically.
In 2020, he simultaneously released two albums, both aimed at “growing people”; the first (Small But Mighty: Songs for Growing People) is a folk/blues concept album…OK, not really, it’s actually songs for children that has “silly” originals and some true old time songs given the Andy treatment. It’s title (and some of the vocals) were provided by his daughter Moira Meltzer-Cohen) who shares her father’s love for, and recognition of, the importance of the true origins of most of the music we hear today. It does share some of the songs with the CD below which is a shame, although they do fit in with the theme. Some of the highlights are the banjo instrumental, The Brand New Baby, which I loved.
Mon Petit Chien has suitable accordion to go with the Parisian ode to my little dog…corny maybe, but as a dog owner (or rather a dog’s human) I can’t fail to smile. Chicken has great guitar although the lyrics may be a bit suggestive at times for little ones…or that maybe just my mind. Gravy Waltz features Moira and she sings it perfectly, making it sound like a soundtrack to a great black and white movie.
So this is a strange mix to a childless old man…the not silly songs are great but I doubt I’ll be listening to Boob-I-Lak or Funnel Cakes very often. This then is a challenge; the best songs are on the second CD reviewed below and some are a little too kiddie for a miserable old git like me although maybe kids will enjoy Uncle Stinky!
So this is, for me, a 3 Doodle Paw album that is a great listen but I will always seek out Tryin’ To Get Home before this one…your children could well disagree.
The second (Tryin’ To Get Home) is a mix of pre-war songs and originals and it does share a couple with the kid’s CD because, as Andy says: “it’s a record for grown ups who should also be growing people”…no argument here. My favourites are Charlie Patton’s Pea Vine Blues that Andy plays brilliantly and his vocals are pitched perfectly too.
Another classic given a seriously original guitar reading by Andy is the 1920s Clarence and Spenser Williams composition made most famous by none other than Louis Armstrong, I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Have None of My Jelly Roll…slightly modified title but still the same song done with more great guitar and the bounce and lilt of the original.
Blind Blakes’s West Coast Blues is also a lesson in updating and honouring a class original…even the spoons are well played if a bit high in the mix (apart from the spoon solo!) Elsewhere, Earwig Stomp is a delightful instrumental; Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy is a funereal masterpiece; the ‘Traditional’ song, Riley and Spencer is another song Andy has unearthed and turned into a blues classic. This album is packed with ‘old time blues’ that I have spent the last few years digging for and, apart from seeking out yet more originals from the 20s and 30s, it provides an insight into the wealth and importance of the material out there.
This is a 4 Doodle Paw, Wonderful album is a great addition to my collection
and will be filed alongside Patton, Leadbetter and Blake.
(As if in harmony with Andy, iTunes served me some Black Pony Blues from Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup (although a bit later in history as this was around 1941) just to make sure I stayed firmly in blues guitar heaven!)