"The Blanco Session"
Cow Island Music
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Born and raised in the breadbasket of Southwest Virginia, Janis Martin was one of the few females who dared to wade into the male-dominated genre of rockabilly. (Wanda Jackson being the most famous.) In the mid-1950s, RCA Records dubbed Janis Martin "The Female Elvis" upon the release of her first single, "Will You, Willyum," which went on to sell more than 750,000 copies and led to appearances on the "Grand Ole Opry," "The Tonight Show" and "American Bandstand."
This posthumously released disc was recorded in 2007 when Martin was 67, just months before she succumbed to lung cancer. Produced and championed by singer Rosie Flores, this is a tough, old-fashioned rockabilly record, midway between hillbilly country and the blues, with simple, hard-swinging grooves, twangin' guitar licks and timeless double entendres.
Tapping classics like Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and Bill Monroe's "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine," Flores also cherry-picked more obscure nuggets, like "As Long As I'm Movin'," which was a Top 10 hit for R&B singer Ruth Brown (one of Martin's idols) in 1955. The late, great Ronnie Dawson's driving "Wham Bam Jam" fits her to a T, as does Dave Alvins' "Long White Cadillac." Other tracks include Elvis' "Find Out What's Happening," the swinging "Roll Around Rockin'" and, fittingly, "Wild One (Real Wild Child)."
Thanks in large part to the tough quartet backing her up, Martin's swan song is as true a nugget of rockabilly as you're likely to find.
Robin Kessinger & Robert Shafer
One of the upsides of the new recording and duplication technology is that folks like Robert Shafer and Robin Kessinger can regularly create audio snapshots of their incredible playing. The two West Virginians first joined forces on the Ron Sowell-produced "Album of Champions" in the early '90s, and their latest neatly picks up that thread.
With Shafer engineering and producing, there's a warm, easy-going feel to the record, but don't let that fool you: the playing is nothing short of ferocious. Taking on traditional tunes, standards and a few Texas swing tunes, the dozen tracks open with the beautiful "Daley's Reel" which, like most of the tracks, is deceptively quick. I say "deceptively" because the fretwork is so effortless you won't realize how quick it really is.
Other standouts are the gorgeous twin guitar work on "Forked Deer," the jazz-inflected "Lady Be Good" and the old-timey "Doc Harris Hornpipe."
With years of playing together under the belts, the two trade rhythm and lead seamlessly, although Shafer's signature bends are blue notes easy to pick out, as are Kessinger's creative use of open strings. Meanwhile, the flatpicking on "Dixie Hoedown," "Bitter Creek" and "St. Anne's Reel" demonstrates why both players have taken top honors at the National Flatpicking Championship.
Shafer and his Pour House Band will perform at the Kanawha Valley Jamboree, 8902 MacCorkle Ave., Marme, at 7 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $8 for adults and $3 for children. Call 304-545-2693.