“In the early twentieth century, millions of Southerners moved from hardluck farms to the big cities of the North and West. As the Great Migration carried Southern barbecue to new locales, it did the same for Southern music.”*
If BBQJew.com had a soundtrack, without a doubt it would be the terrific new barbecue-blues compilation album, “Barbecue Any Old Time.” The collection of vintage, early 20th century blues music about barbecue and other such meats was released in September on North Carolina’s own Old Hat Records. Like the authentic, soulful food paid homage to throughout the album, it’s hard to find music this flavorful in today’s quick-cooked world.
One would expect an album that is a compilation of blues songs about barbecue and other southern meat treats would be a novelty record, and to a certain degree it is. Yet despite the novelty of the concept, the album is worthy of repeated listening. Many of the songs are as well-crafted as any of the era, and the music varies widely from track to track despite the uniformly carnivorous theme. If your musical palate includes a taste for country blues, urban blues, string bands or even vaudeville there is something on Barbecue Any Old Time for you.
Barbecue Any Old Time serves as a terrific crash course on blues music from the 1920s to early 1940s: it is fueled by energy and mischief, prepared with great vocals and musicianship, and basted in numerous double-entendres. Lyrics like “pepper sauce mama, you make my meat red hot” are among the more over the top refrains, but there are plenty of memorable lines to choose from on an album featuring songs like “Meat Cuttin’ Blues,” “Fat Meat is Good Meat,” and “Pig Meat is What I Crave.” In fact, you may find yourself blushing next time you sit down for a meal.
Despite plenty of songs that lean heavily on sexual innuendo, like good barbecue the album is not as simple as it may first seem. Taken as a collection, the songs on Barbecue Any Old Time have a hidden complexity to them that make you want to return again and again. Perhaps that is no surprise given the caliber of musicians featured on the album. The track listing includes blues legends like Memphis Minnie, Blind Boy Fuller and Brownie McGhee, as well as far lesser known artists like Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, Bessie Jackson, and The Two Charlies. The liner notes are top notch, featuring a compelling essay by Tom Hanchett, Staff Historian at Charlotte’s Levine Museum of the New South, and succinct but fascinating descriptions of each track. Also included are vintage images of barbecue joints, blues musicians, record posters, and even President Andrew Jackson (read the notes and you’ll learn why).
Musical highlights include “Big Boy” Teddy Edwards’ funny but not slight, “Who Did You Give My Barbecue To?”; Frankie Jaxon’s smokey-smooth vocals on “Give Me a Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer”; the rollicking “Pepper Sauce Mama” by Charlie Campbell and His Red Peppers; and Barbecue Bob’s expertly crafted “Barbecue Blues.” Though not every song reaches the pit-cooked perfection of these ones, nearly all are worth tasting more than once. Barbecue Any Old Time indeed. Congratulations to Old Hat Records for tending the fires on this slow-cooked instant classic.
*Quote from a letter by Old Hat Records promoting the album.