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World Music CD Reviews Reggae & Caribbean

JOSEPH SPENCE

By Jeff Tamarkin

The Complete Folkways Recordings 1958
Smithsonian Folkways

Joseph Spence was one curious bird. Discovered by folklorist Samuel Charters on Andros Island in the Bahamas in 1958, at which time these nine songs were recorded, Spence's solo acoustic guitar playing and repertoire owed less to his native surroundings than to the finger-picked blues and gospel of the American South. Exceedingly melodic and incessantly rhythmic, he was a resourceful improviser yet he never lost sight of the root of the song. All of which would be commendable in itself even if Spence had not possessed one of the most startling vocal styles ever committed to tape, somewhere on the cusp between Tom Waits, Howlin' Wolf and Popeye The Sailor.