Review - If I Had My Way: Early Home Recordings

Artist: Reverend Gary Davis


The bluesmen who made their way to Chicago in the '40s and '50s transformed the sound of the Delta into the electric roots of R&B and rock & roll. The bluesmen who made their way to New York were typically treated as anthropological oddities by the intellectual "folk" scene, as was the case of the blind Rev. Gary Davis. John Cohen is the man who made these recordings of Davis, enlisted by the folks at People's Songs (an organization that combined Socialism and folk music into a tidy package) to pick up the reverend at his Bronx apartment one afternoon and take him to a "downtown hootenanny." Sufficiently impressed with Davis' gospel blues, Cohen took it upon himself to record Davis at home. These 18 songs are the result of those sessions, and they capture raw, honest performances that lean largely toward Davis' gospel background, rather than the bluesier sounds that would define his later work. They are great performances. This disc is notable as yet another chronicle of the paternalism among white literati when it comes to bluesmen. A strain of hipster condescension runs through the liner notes and the very act of recording Davis in his Bronx home -- for no money, says Cohen, but just for his own interest -- is still creepy 50 years later.