♫ Alvin Youngblood Hart, Territory
🍺 Anchor Steam Beer
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
Last time out, while revisiting 1999’s Greens From The Garden, I found myself thinking about another, similarly eclectic blues album from the same period: Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Territory. This 1998 release was the follow-up to Hart’s stunning debut Big Mama’s Door – a record that had catapulted the Oakland, California native to the forefront of an emerging wave of traditionally minded acoustic bluesmen. Just two years later, he made a clear statement informing the world he was not going to be pigeonholed.
Even today, Hart’s “music is music” philosophy is right there on his website for all to see: “I have a great disdain for genre segregation. I try to avoid that practice.”
On Territory, the big man with the powerful hands put his money where his mouth is. True, the album includes a few traditionals, performed in the spirit of Leadbelly and Bukka White, as well as an update of Skip James’s “Illinois Blues.” But on the whole, the musical ground Hart stakes with the disc’s eleven cuts goes well beyond what anyone was expecting at the time.
Across the bay from Hart’s birthplace, in the taverns of late 19th century San Francisco, steam beer emerged as a unique variation on the lager. It’s perhaps the lone beer variety indigenous to the United States. San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company owns the trademark and is thus the only brewer allowed to use the term for what’s otherwise referred to as “California common beer.” Not a very enticing name. Nevertheless, we’re going to give Anchor Steam Beer a try as we spend some time with Alvin.
Blues and brews by the bay today, you say? Hooray!
♫ Skip James, Blues From The Delta
🍺 Chinook Red Indian Ale
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
Are you ready to get way down low?
I just dug out my CD copy of the Skip James album Blues From The Delta, thinking it might be a worthy Listening Party candidate. It’s been a while since this one found its way into the CD player tray. The purple and violet-tinged Vanguard Records release combines nine tracks from 1966’s Today! with an additional nine cuts from 1968’s Devil Got My Woman. Two previously unreleased recordings bring the total to 20. As my favorite baseball broadcaster might say when noting a player’s stats: That’s just bookkeeping.
Then I skim listened, starting with James’s most enduring title “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” Goose bumps. “Special Rider Blues.” Goose bumps. James’s sorrowful moan set my hair on end the first time I heard it and it still does today.
If you’re unfamiliar with the originator of the so-called “Bentonia School” of blues (James was raised on a plantation near Bentonia, Mississippi), this 1998 Vanguard compilation is the place to start, as opposed to the hissy, scratchy relics he recorded for Paramount in 1931 – undeniably great but considerably less accessible.
Over on the beer side of things, we’ll be unscientifically enjoying a bottle of Kraftbierwerkstatt’s Chinook Red Indian Ale. Let’s be clear: I did not choose this beer on the strength of its name. I suppose I could have not chosen it on that basis. Were it brewed and bottled in the US instead of the southern German city of Böblingen, the marketing people at Kraftbierwerkstatt surely would have thought twice about the Red Indian moniker. Just ask the owners of the baseball franchise now called the Cleveland Guardians or the NFL’s Washington Football Club, who are still looking for a new name.
Issues of racial insensitivity aside: The album and beer look great together.