Sleepy John Estes

On 80 Highway

by Alan Brown

24 February 2009

 
cover art

Sleepy John Estes

On 80 Highway

(Delmark)
US: 21 Oct 2008
UK: Available as import

By the time Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon stepped into Chicago’s Sound Studio to cut these up-to-now unreleased sides for Delmark in 1974, “the Tennessee Blues Poet” and his harmonica-playin’ partner had been making music together for well over 40 years. Listen to the two first-generation country bluesmen cutting it up here as they prepare to launch into a playfully intimate version of Estes’s 1929 tune “Brownsville Blues” and it’s like an old married couple joined at the hip as they “take that right hand road to Brownsville” one more time. The clear crying, singing blues of Estes’s ‘30s and ‘40s recordings has slipped away into a world-weary, mournful wailing murmur that’s no less emotionally powerful. Nevertheless, the real magic is in the almost telepathic interplay between weeping guitar and melancholy harmonica (and occasional fun-lovin’ kazoo on a couple of tracks) which charges standards like “T Model Ford” (also known as “Poor Man’s Friend”) and “Mary Come on Home” with such a vibrant energy.

On 80 Highway

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