January 12th - The Blues is Life

The Blues is Life - Victoria Spivey, 1976

Victoria Spivey, like many blues artists of the '30s and '40s, experienced a career resurgence in the '60s and '70s, reemerging from semi-retirement to play with a then-unknown Bob Dylan, start her own record label and record this album - ferociously prolific, the liner notes kind of imply that these 13 tracks were dashed off as a personal favor to Moses Asch. 

Even cooler, the track listing doesn't just have song titles - each track also has a designated genre of blues, from No Friends Blues and Kazoo Blues to A Sausage Blues, of which I assume this is the first instance. The liner notes even give the context in which these blues would be sung:

Liner notes

Liner notes

But even more interesting is the instrumentation.

On about half of the songs, Spivey plays ukulele, which - as common as it is in contemporary "retro" blues and jazz - is not anything I've heard in blues from this era. Accompanied in some cases by just percussion, the tone is deeply weird and amazing - the opening to Eagle and Hawk sounds like freak folk from 2010. Spivey's piano-playing is also unconventional, with a singer's sense of timing and sustain. The lyrics are excellent, from the hilarious Low Friends  to the aforementioned Sissages Blues. And there's even a kazoo number!

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways