What does it sound like?:
In some respects this review can be considered as a continuation of the Don Nix album review I posted a couple of days ago.
Nix is the key figure in this recording of the Alabama State Troupers live revue. Recorded in October 1971, this came about a couple of months after Nix had been involved with The Concert for Bangladesh where he might have learned some of the difficulties in putting on a big band show. It was also meant to emulate Mad Dogs and Englishmen which had recently preceded it where of course Nix’s good friend Leon Russell was the ringmaster in that particular circus. It’s a real mix of the profane and sacred.
The profane comes courtesy of Furry Lewis (the same Furry of whom Joni Mitchell wrote about singing the blues; a tribute about which he was not overly impressed, being of the not unreasonable opinion that if his name was being used, he should have been collecting a royalty). Furry, aged 78 at the time of recording, sings of having a different woman every day of the week in Furry’s Blues while in Brownsville he sings of his woman trying to poison him, so he goes to the gypsy to get his hambone done.
It’s the blues, pure and simple. I can only imagine that it was probably a real surprise to an audience that took its appreciation of blues from Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter or British Blues bands that had hit the US.
The sacred is the gospel sound that permeates so much of this set courtesy of The Mount Zion Band and Choir.
The main band open with a gospel version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, but this isn’t just affectation, the set continues as a gospel performance “Mighty Time” and “Jesus On The Mainline” must have made the gig seem more like a church service than a concert. Really powerful performances form the singers in the mount Zion Choir.
The audience is may have been getting restless, though it doesn’t come across because they get told they’v got to listen to the mission and they get the sermon before soup.
There are rockers but a decent enough song like Mary Louise suffers because unlike the Mad Dogs tour there is no rock vocalist of Joe Cocker’s calibre and given the power and strength of the women singing the gospel numbers, the gulf in quality is massive. Bluesman Lonnie Mack was supposed to be a big part of the show, but he went AWOL shortly before they went on the road. I don’t know very much of his music, but what I have heard doesn’t suggest that part would have been improved too much.
There are are some fantastic performances within the gospel repertoire. Disc 1’s closer “Yes I do Understand” mixes beauty and power while the closer to the main set “My Father’s House” would have shaken the foundations of nearby buildings. It rocks and keeps on rocking
One thing I don’t understand about the set is the inclusion of “Dixie” sung by Jeanie Greene, one of the gospel singers. Given its association with the Confederacy and its position as a mainstay of blackface artists it seems bizarre. I’ll accept things have changed a lot in the intervening years and in the same way as over here The Black and White Minstrel Show is a wholly redundant concept, but this was at a time when black consciousness was rising and it seems totally out of place.
A couple of songs from Nix’s Living By The Days album Iuka and Olena both appear here and are far better live than in their original studio incarnations.
Set closer “Going Down” (written by Nix and best known to me as a Freddie King number) gives Wayne Perkins (later to audition for Mick Taylor’s vacated position in The Stones) and a guy called Tippy Armstrong a chance to let rip.
It’s an album of moments, rather than a stream of greatness. There are huge contrasts between Furry Lewis, and the gospel and rock content, but in all it’s enjoyable without being essential. As noted above, a stronger rock vocalist could have elevated those songs to a higher plane where they would match the gospel performances.
What does it all *mean*?
The days of these sort of revues have long gone, but it might not be a bad thing if they were revived
Goes well with…
The Fairfield Four, The Jordanaires, Butterfield Blues Band,going to church
Might suit people who like…
Gospel, blues, rock, double entendre songs, not Joni Mitchell