Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Alligator Records Presents God Don't Never Change The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson



Look up Blind Willie Johnson and you’ll find the basics – born, raised, lived and died in Texas; an itinerant street preacher who eventually got a small congregation; born with sight, but may have lost it when a step mother threw lye in his face; and he sang gospel tinged blues with a voice that took him from the streets to the stars.

Like the other, better known Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson only recorded a handful of tracks – some 30 titles, their recording date and label with number are listed below:
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  •  Bye and Bye I'm Goin' to See the King (December 10, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14504-D)
  • Can't Nobody Hide from God (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14556-D)
  • Church, I'm Fully Saved To-Day (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14582-D)
  • Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14303-D)
  • Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14597-D)
  • Go with Me to That Land (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14597-D)
  • God Don't Never Change (December 10, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14490-D)
  • God Moves on the Water (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14520-D)
  • I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14276-D)
  • I'm Gonna Run to the City of Refuge (December 5, 1928, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14391-D)
  • If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down (Oh Lord If I Had My Way) (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14343-D)
  • If It Had Not Been For Jesus (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14556-D)
  • It's Nobody's Fault but Mine (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14303-D)
  • Jesus Is Coming Soon (December 5, 1928, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14391-D)
  • Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14276-D)
  • John the Revelator (April 20, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14530-D)
  • Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning (December 5, 1928, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14425-D)
  • Let Your Light Shine on Me (December 10, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14490-D)
  • Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying (December 5, 1928, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14425-D)
  • Motherless Children (Mother's Children Have a Hard Time) (December 3, 1927, Dallas, Texas; Columbia 14343-D)
  • Praise God I'm Satisfied (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14545-D)
  • Sweeter as the Years Roll By (December 10, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14624-D)
  • Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14520-D)
  • Take Your Stand (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14624-D)
  • The Rain Don't Fall on Me (April 20, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14537-D)
  • The Soul of a Man (April 20, 1930, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14582-D)
  • Trouble Will Soon Be Over (April 20, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14537-D)
  • When the War Was On (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14545-D)
  • You'll Need Somebody on Your Bond (December 11, 1929, New Orleans, Louisiana; Columbia 14504-D)
  • You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond (April 20, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia; Columbia 14530-D)


It’s not quantity of work that changes the world, it’s quality. Even a handful of sides, even a single song, can influence so many other artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s songs are the pebbles that have been dropped in the musical pond and the ripples have gone out far and wide and touched so many other musicians that those ripples will never end. He is one of the few modern musicians whose work has been sent out in search of other life.

Johnson’s dark and haunting song Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground was included on the Voyager Golden Record and sent into space as part of earth’s attempt to contact other races in outer space. He’s in good company, other musicians include Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Chuck Berry. That’s right, somewhere out there in the vast unknown of space, lies an alien rocking out to the blues and Johnny B. Goode.

This little history lesson is merely to give you a little of the background to the excellent collection of new covers commissioned by Alligator Records, GOD DON’T NEVER CHANGE: THE SONGS OF BLIND WILLIE JOHNSON.

Nine top artists cover 11 of Johnson’s best known works. Tom Waits and Lucinda Williams, each cover two songs; Waits tackles The Soul Of A Man and John The Revelator; Williams tries her hand at It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine and the title track, God Don’t Never Change. They are joined by Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi performing Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning; Cowboy Junkies singing Jesus Is Coming Soon; the Blind Boys Of Alabama covering Motherless Children Have A Hard Time; Sinead O’Connor on Trouble Will Soon Be Over; Luther Dickinson featuring The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band  on Bye And Bye I’m Going To See The King; Maria McKee singing Let Your Light Shine On Me; and Rickie Lee Jones ends the album with her take on Dark Was The Night – Cold Was The Ground.

Like most compilations there are some cuts that are stronger than others, and some of the artists are not familiar with singing gospel inspired songs, but the power in the lyrics cannot be denied and despite the fact that most of the original songs were recorded with one man and a guitar, here the orchestrations are fleshed out more fully.

Each artist puts his or her own stamp on Johnson’s magic. The results are electrifying and occasionally mystical, the interpretations give us insight as to how each artist was inspired to do their take on the song.

Alligator Records does not usually go out on a limb with compilations and they are to be commended for reaching outside of their comfort zone in order to get these great songs into the hands of a wider audience.



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