Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Blind" Willie Johnson straddled that spooky border between blues and spirituals. Among musicians, he is considered one of the greatest slide or bottleneck guitarists, as well as one of the most revered figures of depression-era gospel music. Covered by everyone from Peter, Paul and Mary to Led Zepelin to Fairport Convention to Bob Dylan to Beck to The White Stripes, he is one of those almost secret figures who seemingly influence everything. Ry Coooder's soundtrack to "Paris, Texas" was conceived as a distillation of his work and spirit. Willie Johnson's life in itself reads like an early blues, blinded at age seven by his own mother in a fight with his errant father, living as an itinerant preacher and singer, having to live in the burnt out ruin of his ramshackle house after a fire, on a wet mattress, which eventually helped kill him, pneumonia, malarial fever and syphilis being a powerful combo.
Uncut (p.100) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "The scratchy tunes here are incredibly intense: country-folk songs, hymns and spirituals delivered in a growling blues style, accentuated by sparse bottleneck."
Q (Magazine) (p.119) - 3 stars out of 5 -- "Just one listen and the day of reckoning suddenly seems very close at hand."
Not a blues singer in the generally accepted sense, Blind Willie Johnson was really a singing preacher with a killer slide guitar style and a guttural voice that indicated clearly that he wasn't about to mess around with the small stuff. While many blues singers woke up in the morning wondering where their lovers went, Johnson woke up wondering about their souls. His was a desolate, cold world where the one true goal was deliverance, and his genius as a musician was in his ability to convey the darkness that reaches toward the light. This collection from Rev-Ola contains 23 of the 30 tracks Johnson recorded in his lifetime, and all of the indispensable cuts are here, including "God Moves on the Water," "John the Revelator," the chilling, beautiful, and wordless "Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground)," the Old Testament fire and brimstone of "If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down," and his clearest statement of position, "The Soul of a Man." Everything Johnson recorded is available in a two-disc set from Columbia Records, but as single-disc compilations go, this one does nicely. ~ Steve Leggett