Charley Patton

Although he never got the notice Robert Johnson received through Eric Clapton and his crowd, Charley Patton is generally considered the king of the country-blues pioneers. Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues shows just what made Patton so special: The staggering seven-CD collection includes all the songs Patton ever recorded, a full disc of other prominent Depression-era blues artists and an interview-CD with pickers such as Howlin' Wolf and Pops Staples, who credited Patton as a primary influence. The music is flat-out fantastic, but what really makes this collection a jaw-dropping stunner is the presentation.

This immense boxed set is sure to win a Grammy for best packaging; if it doesn't, the Marines should be deployed to smoke out any lingering pockets of resistance within the music industry. Screamin' and Hollerin' comes in a sturdy green canvas slipcover, embossed in '20s-style lettering. Inside are intricate hard-cover replicas of old-fashioned 78 rpm albums, each with a CD affixed to it, decorated with a reproduction of one of the original labels. The set also includes a gorgeously ornamented book filled with essays on Patton by roots music scholars Dick Spottswood and David Evans and guitar genius John Fahey, the godfather of the Revenant label. These articles describe Patton's importance in the growth of the commercial blues industry, as well as analyze his music song by song, and are accompanied by lavish reproductions of old advertisements and stickers that duplicate the artwork from all of Patton's original 78s. And if that obsessive documentation isn't enough to pique your interest, Revenant throws in a facsimile of Fahey's 1970 paperback Charley Patton, which was adapted from his doctoral thesis and is reproduced here right down to the library stamp on the title page.

Equally striking is the set's music, which is as powerful and as haunting now as it was seven decades ago. Patton was not simply a popular singer during the Great Depression; he was perhaps the pivotal figure in the development of the blues as we know it today. As Fahey points out in his tract, during the late '20s, music execs had no idea what would sell among their "race" records, so they granted rural musicians like Patton free rein in song selection and musical arrangements. Unlike the label owners, Patton did know what would sell, and his recordings went like hotcakes. Screamin' and Hollerin' reveals a panorama of Delta popular song, featuring everything from gospel numbers and topical songs to novelty tunes and lovesick blues, all underpinned by Patton's sophisticated steel-guitar work, deft finger-picking, and trademark growling vocals. The collection serves both as an overview of pop music's gritty, mystical past and as a testament to one man's unique and tremendous talent.


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