Josh White: Josh at Midnight

JoshWhite_JoshAtMidnightJosh White’s 1956 folk-blues classic returns to vinyl in grand fashion

By the time Josh White began recording for Elektra in 1955, he’d reached heights that few other African-American entertainers had attained. He’d become a recording, concert and radio star, a civil rights activist and confident of FDR, and appeared in mainstream and avant garde films. But he’d also run afoul of both the left and the right by voluntarily testifying in front of the HUAC, ending up blacklisted (officially by the right, unofficially by the left) and unable to make a living in the US. But Jac Holzman bucked both sides of the political spectrum and offered White an opportunity to record for his fledgling Elektra label, releasing The Story of John Henry… A Musical Narrative as a double 10-inch album and 12-inch LP.

The following year saw the release of Josh at Midnight, an album that helped restore White’s career and boosted Elektra’s commercial fortunes. Recorded in mono with a single mic (a classic Telefunken U-47), the sound is spontaneous, lively and crisp. White is backed by bassist Al Hall and baritone vocalist Sam Gary as he works through material drawn largely from the public domain. Many of these songs were, or became, favorites of the folk revival, but even the most well-known are fresh in White’s hands. The material ranges from the sacred (“Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dyin’ Bed” “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”) to the profane (“St. James Infirmary” “Jelly Jelly!”), with several humorous stops in between.

Ramseur’s reissue was supervised by Jac Holzman, prepared by Bruce Botnick and mastered by Bernie Grundman. The front cover reproduces the original, but with Ramseur’s logo slotted in place of Elektra’s. The back cover includes new liner notes by Holzman and song notes by Kenneth S. Goldstein, and the record labels mimic the look and color of Elektra’s. It’s a shame this vinyl-only release leaves those in the digital world with inferior MP3s, or a CD or two-fer of unknown provenance, but LP, MP3 or CD, this is an absolute classic, and a must-have for anyone whose original (or thrift-store) copy has been worn out from repeated play. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

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