The Young Willie Mitchell and Ruben Cherry’s Home of the Blues Records

Apparently Stomper Time Records (UK) is going to begin to document the superb and short-lived Home of the Blues label that Ruben Cherry and Celia Camp operated in Memphis from 1960-1962, and that is great news, considering that the two P-Vine Club reissues of Home of the Blues material have been unavailable since the mid-1990’s.
Home of the Blues began shortly after World War II as a record shop owned by Ruben Cherry at 107 Beale Street in Memphis. Its location near Beale and Main guaranteed that both Blacks and whites would buy music there, and they did. The shop was frequented by radio rebel Dewey Phillips and King Elvis himself, and Johnny Cash’s song “Home of the Blues” was allegedly titled in honor of the shop. By 1960, Ruben had gone into business with his aunt Celia G. Camp in forming a record label called Home of the Blues, which recorded a number of blues and early soul discs during its furious two years of recording.
Many of the Home of the Blues session were produced by a young Willie Mitchell, who at that time had produced a few sessions for Eddie Bond’s Stomper Time label. He recorded a number of instrumentals, as well as recordings by his doo-wop group The Four Kings featuring Don Bryant, all of which are documented on the Stomper Time CD Original Memphis Rhythm ‘N’ Blues. Of particular note are the sultry mambo “Tanya” and its driving Memphis-beat twin “Yvonne”, and the acapella Four Kings tracks that show strong points of similarity to the mysterious Sun group Hunki-Dori. Lead singer Don Bryant would follow Mitchell over to Joe Coughi’s Hi Records label, where he would have a much bigger career.
Most of the other Home of the Blues artists are featured on Rockin’ Rhythm ‘N’ Blues From Memphis, including Roy Brown, Dave Dixon, Larry Birdsong, Billy Adams, Billy Lee Riley, The 5 Royales, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and the mysterious “Cleanhead Cootsie” who was one of many alter egos for the great Memphis saxophonist Fred Ford. Highlights here include Willie Cobb’s magnificent “You Don’t Love Me” which made inroads even into Jamaica, Larry Birdsong’s gospelish “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me From Your Love” and two tracks from the rarely-recorded Robinsonville, Mississippi bluesman Woodrow Adams.
While the release of these two discs from Stomper Time sheds a welcome spotlight on an obscure era in Memphis music history, the 61 tracks on these two releases only scratch the surface of what exists in the Home of the Blues catalog. Here’s hoping that the good folks at Stomper Time will eventually release the entire output of this great-but-forgotten label.

Album Review: Son Volt “Honky Tonk” @SonVoltMusic (Rounder Records)

SonVolt Indie bluegrass band Son Volt emerged from the ruins of Uncle Tupelo, so I was thrilled when their new album Honky Tonk came across my desk. Upon putting it in my car stereo, I was immediately greeted by the cheerfully upbeat opener “Hearts and Minds” whose lyrics speak of “looking for love outside of danger” over a sunny, Cajun-like waltz. The rest of the album is a far more somber affair, with a typical country sound that is constantly being subverted by odd turns of poetic phrase in the lyrics. “Brick Walls” speaks of a relationship where “there’s more brick walls than bridges on the way to your heart”, and even “Wild Side”, a tribute to a gracious rebel reminds us that “we’ll all be tested anyway.” “Bakersfield” seems to be more about a location in the soul than a location on the map, and “Angel of the Blues” offers an ever-so-slightly more modern sound, which isn’t the blues per se but has quite the melancholy mood. “Seawall” seemingly carries forward the album’s underlying theme of divisions and barriers that was first introduced in “Brick Walls” and is also referred to in “Barricades.” Honky Tonk is an album firmly planted at the intersection of bluegrass, folk and Americana, a beautiful juxtaposition of traditional music with exquisite poetry.

Album Review: 5th Child “Love Letters & Suicide Notes” @5thChildMusic

5thchild Jackson, Mississippi has a surprising legacy of an alternate view of what Southern rap could be, from the Stewpot Stowawayz to Wild Life Society, to Us From Dirt, to Crooked Lettaz, and finally to Skipp Coon. So in that regard, the emergence of a new Jackson hip-hop artist like 5th Child is not quite as surprising as it would be elsewhere in the south. First coming to my attention around the same time that Morning Bell Records appeared in Jackson, 5th Child has been a frequent performer there, and elsewhere in Jackson’s ultra-hip Fondren neighborhood, often appearing with a live band. His latest effort, Love Letters & Suicide Notes combines religious faith, a righteous anger at injustice and a healthy dose of funk and soul. The opening “A Word of Advice” sounds like misguided advice that 5th has probably heard over and over again from well-meaning “experts” in his hometown, but it is immediately followed by the title track, which is remarkably upbeat in its call to “Turn the lights up” and dispel the darkness. Most of the remaining tracks, such as “Inspiration” and “Circles” feature 5th’s seemingly-effortless flow over beds of luscious soul, with “Outta Town Girls” providing a moment of lighter romance. But the hardest hitting song is “Black Hoodie”, a tribute to Trayvon Martin, the Black Florida teenager who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer while wearing a black hoodie. The song opens with a clip from Geraldo Rivera’s stupid television comments that the hoodie was responsible for Martin’s death, and presents a grim reminder that any Black youth could easily become Trayvon Martin. Altogether, Love Letters & Suicide Notes was a welcome introduction to the music of 5th Child, who likely will remain an important voice in Southern hip-hop. Like him on Facebook at, or follow him on Twitter at You can also visit him on Bandcamp at or buy this album on iTunes at

Album Review: Marlowe and the Sea-“The More Things Change”

Marlowe and the Sea

    This charming debut album from Mississippi folk-alternative band Marlowe and the Sea was one of two discs that I picked up last Saturday at the Cups coffeehouse on Old Canton Road in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve learned over the years that you usually can’t go too wrong buying discs from a coffee house, and this was no exception. The brief album is 24 minutes and 7 exquisitely-crafted songs written by Brad Ward, with tuneful guitar and vocals, and on some tracks, added effects like live brass and piano, and while the mood tends somewhat to the melancholy, there’s a fair amount of humor beneath the surface, such as in “The Contest”, whose lyrics state that “I built a frame to hang the pictures in your dreams, but then the frame fell from the wall with all the weight. You said the frame was frail, I blamed the wall, so we chalked it up to fate.” The title track “The More Things Change” has a Dylanesque air about it, while the following song “The Kindest Words” has a beautiful spaciousness that is still tinged with the sadness that seems to pervade the whole work. The seventh track is not listed on the cover, and is presumably a bonus track. This is Marlowe and the Sea’s debut CD, released in what would seem to be a hand-designed sleeve on the little Elegant Trainwreck imprint, and it is one definitely worth getting acquainted with. RATING: 3 out of 5. Visit for further info, or like them on Facebook at For more information on the Elegant Trainwreck label, go to

Big Star-Radio City (via @OneWeekOneBand)


To all intents and purposes, Radio City is a pretty strange album too. As with the later Third (which I spent enough time rattling on about yesterday), it wasn’t quite the work of a band at all. Members come and went, the sessions were irregular and erratic – a couple of the songs were even recorded by a scratch band in Chilton was the only member of Big Star actually present. They, incidentally, called themselves the Dolby Fuckers – the name allegedly stemming from Chilton’s cluelessness about certain studio gizmos (ie: “What the hell are these Dolby fuckers?”)

Yet, for all the haphazardness of its construction, it’s a damn tight bunch of performances – albeit veering far from the glistening power pop of #1 Record. Sure, Chris Bell’s fingerprints are smudged across a couple of the tracks here, like ‘Back of a Car’ – one of the only things that rocks in the same determined way as its predecessor. Otherwise, Chilton’s material – although expertly played – is surprisingly slack; ‘Mod Lang’ and ‘Life Is White’ are hazy stoned paeans to not much at all, while ‘She’s a Mover’ may be the only Big Star song that choogles.

It’s an incredible record in its own terms, and you couldn’t really pick a stand-out if you tried…save, of course, for one song in particular. You can probably guess which one I’m talking about.

[pictured above – alternate cover for Radio City. Photo by William Eggleston. L-R: Jody Stephens, Andy Hummel, Alex Chilton]

Album Review: Colt Ford’s “Chicken and Biscuits” @coltford

The marriage of rap and country is not as contrived as one might first imagine. For one thing, if hip-hop was born in New York, that doesn’t change the fact that many of its originators were the children of African-Americans who had recently migrated from the South. Furthermore, there is a fairly long tradition of “talking records” in country, a tradition that might have been influenced by “talking blues” from Black rural communities. So what Colt Ford is doing with his sophomore album Chicken and Biscuits is not a divorce from the grand tradition of country music, but a contribution to it. Songs like “Cricket on a Line”, “Nothing in Particular” and “We Like to Hunt” celebrate the classic pastimes of the traditional South, but from a younger perspective. The title track portrays the ideal woman, comparing her to the goodness of a plate of chicken and biscuits. “Ride On, Ride Out” is a collaboration with DMC of Run-DMC, and “Hip-Hop in a Honky Tonk” deals with some of the ambiguities of country’s attitude toward rap. “Convoy” is a remake of the classic 70’s trucker anthem, which was itself a sort of rap. Ultimately, while Chicken and Biscuits may not be every country fan’s cup of tea, it is great fun, and masterfully conceived.