Album Review

Blind Willie McTell - Last Session

Blind Willie McTell

Last Session


Release Date: March 5th, 1962

Words by: Roland Ellis
April 9th, 1962


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Recorded in 1956, this was Blind Willie McTell's last recording session before his death in 1959. The album was released posthumouslyby The Bluesville Label in 1962. 'Last Session' is a record of simple and straightforward tunes that although lacking in great melodies throughout, presents a fine example of McTell's prowess as a topical songwriter. Lyrically his records have much more to offer in terms of storytelling than those of the standard bluesman – whose writing style most often relied on the crafting of simple and circular lyrical patterns that all rolled toward the payoff in the form of a hook line resolution at the end of the twelfth bar. Blind Willie did adhere to traditional patterns with his guitar playing, however his lyrics typically told a story that developed from verse to verse toward a conclusion, and herein lies the element that has come to form this man's legacy and have such an impact on future songwriters, most notably of which being Bob Dylan, The Allman Brothers Band, and The White Stripes. On 'Last Session' both 'The Dyin' Crapshooter's Blues' and 'A Married Man's Fool' are great examples of this quality topical songwriting.

However, although this record offers a lot lyrically, the lack of strong melodies throughout the entire album really does limit it's overall appeal. Yes we are hearing something historically interesting through Willie's stories, but that's about all there is to be taken away from this record – a history lesson. It's not a terribly enjoyable record aesthetically due to the dryness and somewhat one dimensional quality of Willie's vocal delivery, and this makes it particularly hard to sit through the whole track list and find yourself still intently listening by the end. To put a simple finger on it – there's no balance created between lyrical substance and strong melody, so instead what we are left with on 'Last Session' are a bunch of tales that may have been just as interesting if they were read out as a tuneless audiobook.

It's crushing to think of what he could have done with the hooky potential of a track like opener 'Baby It Must Be Love'. You put that tune in the hands of say Neil Young and he would have put that hook out of the ball park and the song would have gone on to live forever. However with Blind Willie's version it sounds almost like a man in a rush to belt through a few numbers and get on home from the studio and as such the hook line is completely neglected. There's also a lack of feel and personal connection to the material here that stands in contrast with much of Willie's work from the 30′s and 40′s. At that time he had some rag time soul and the tunes sounded less like impersonal traditional standards as they do here, and more like pieces of work coming from deep in the gut of a man who had something truly original to say.

'Last Session' was the closer to Blind Willie's fantastic musical career and it's a very interesting listen in terms of the lyric. However that's where the buck stops really. There are no individual tracks that really force their way into memorable territory, and this along with McTell's somewhat complacent sounding approach to the recording session, stands to place 'Last Session' low on the ladder when compared to much of his brilliant and influential earlier work.

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