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Guitar of Skip James (2 DVD set)

Folklorist, ethnomusicologist and musician Alan Lomax once said, "You can't kill off a culture until you kill the last person who carries it."  That statement resonates deep within Tom Feldmann as for nearly half his life he has carried on the traditions of the acoustic country blues and gospel music recorded in the 1920's and 30's.  

Minnesota native Tom Feldmann taught himself to play guitar at age 17 after hearing the recordings of the pioneers of acoustic country blues and states, "Mississippi John Hurt taught me to pick, Fred McDowell taught me to play slide and the mighty Son House taught me to sing."  His debut solo album was released in 1999 and Tom has since spent the years writing, touring and recording his own original gospel compositions as well as carrying on the tradition of solo acoustic country blues.

Over the last few years, Tom has shifted the focus of his attention from his own writing to the music of the many legendary bluesmen that inspired him to pick up the guitar all those years ago.  This journey has resulted in a series of CD's, starting with Tribute (2010) and now continues with Lone Wolf Blues (2012). It also resulted in a string of instructional DVD's for Stefan Grossman's Guitar Workshop that have received rave reviews and distribution around the world.

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    Guitar of Skip James (2 DVD set)

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    "Tom Feldmann is an instrumentalist of the first degree, renowned among guitarists as an instructor and preservationist. No one can teach Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Skip James or Bukka White better than Feldmann, a master fingerpicker and slide guitarist." – Living Blues

    "The strangest, most complex and bizarre of all blues artists." - John Fahey

    Skip James is perhaps the most stylistically original of the blues performers from the Mississippi River Delta region, with his unusual Dm (Crossnote) tuning, haunting falsetto vocals, and an intense, variable marriage of music and text. James made a number of recordings for Paramount before the Depression carried him into obscurity, but those recordings would form the basis of his reputation and secure him as one of the legends of that classic era of blues.

    In this 2DVD set Tom Feldmann brings you through Skip's classic 1931 blues recordings as well as a few fan favorites from his rediscovery years, Crow Jane, Worried Blues, Look Down the Road and All Night Long. Nearly all of the 1931 guitar recordings were played using Crossnote tuning and DVD One is dedicated to those songs with Feldmann teaching you every aspect of Skip's playing in this tuning. DVD Two continues with two more classics in Crossnote tuning and then turns to Standard tuning for songs in D and E positions and ends with Skip's lone Spanish tuning (Open G) recording, Special Rider Blues

    Tablature is included as a PDF file on each DVD. In addition the original 1931 recordings of the songs covered are included as well as live footage of Skip James from the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. 

    DVD ONE: Crossnote Tuning: Cypress Grove Blues, Devil Got My Woman,Yola My Blues Away, Hard Time Killing Floor, Cherry Ball Blues, Four O'Clock Blues, Hard Luck Child 

    DVD TWO: Crossnote Tuning: Illinois Blues, I'm So Glad, Standard Tuning: Drunken Spree, Crow Jane, Worried Blues, Look Down the Road, All Night Long, Spanish Tuning: Special Rider Blues

    234 minutes - Level 3 - Detailed tab/music PDF file included on each DVD

    Review: This is the latest in a long line of superlative DVDs produced by the mighty Stefan Grossman team, and each time that I get one to review, I am reminded just how much I have still to learn. This particular session is taught by Tom Feldman who is a superb fingerstyle guitarist in his own right and he has several recordings to his credit. The set consists of two discs, covering most of Skip James recorded output from the Thirties, together with his more recent sixties product (if you can call fifty years ago recent!) Each disc opens with a short clip of Skip James performing one of his songs, before it cuts back to Tom. Beautifully filmed as always with no other visual distractions, you get a split screen showing both hands in play, and it is quite easy to see which fret and string is in play at any time, but just in case there were any doubt, Tom tells you what he is doing. 

    He first of all introduces each song and then plays it through, before breaking it down so that you can follow as required. Each disc is divided into east to follow sections and the first disc covers almost all of Skip James 1931 recordings in Crossnote tuning (DADFAD). The disc ends with audio files of 4 of the recordings.

    Disc two also opens with a short film clip and then once more goes to the same format and consists of a further two songs in Crossnote tuning, then going into standard tuning for a few of Skips songs from the Sixties before closing with Skips only song in Spanish tuning Special Rider Blues. As if that were not all, each disc has PDF files that will enable you to print off the full TAB for every one of the tunes on the discs, and having done just that, I can confirm that the layout and print quality are superb. - Dave Stone/Blues Matters!

    Review: And then there is Skip James. The Delta's most harrowing of stylists. The bluest of the blue, whose guitar spins intricate webs between you and its mesmeric melodies. The one who did with Crossnote (Open D Minor) tuning what Poe did with nouns or Dali with paints: That is, create an airtight world of psychological unrest. When "Cherry Ball Blues" or his even more emotionally crippling "Devil Got My Woman" first spun on Depression-era phonographs, nobody heard anything like that level of eerie distress before. Nobody has heard anything like that ever since. Countless have come under its spell, claiming everyone from Rory Block to Ritchie Blackmore, Dion to Beck, Eric Clapton to Buddy Guy. Even the founding fathers, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters too. So you are in the best of company with fellow guitarists likewise enthralled with Skip's style, repertoire and mystique. Facilitating your transformation is Tom Feldmann, a shellac scholar who painstakingly scrutinizes the scratchy grooves of ancient blues 78s for their technical secrets so you don't have to. He's up to his usual spectacular self here, deciphering James' precise maneuvers with unerring clarity and calmed patience. Disassembling, then reassembling 11 haunters from 1931 ("Cypress Grove Blues" and "Hard Time Killing Floor" circle their gloom-and-doom riffs around and round like roadside buzzards) and four rediscovery-era favorites from the 1960s ("Crow Jane"), these two DVDs teach the very stuff which has sweated palms and clenched stomachs. Take your guitar beyond the pale. - Dennis Rozanski/Blues Rag

    Review: Tom Feldmann has also produced a number of instructional DVDs, focusing on seminal country blues artists like Son House, Charlie Patton, John Hurt, Robert Johnson, and Fred McDowell; this set on Skip James is his latest. Feldmann teaches 15 of James's pieces, including two of his most popular songs, "I'm So Glad" and "Hard Time Killin' Floor." He sings and plays each piece as a performance version, then teaches each passage and plays through the tune on split screen, which shows clearly what the picking and fretting hands are doing. Feldmann doesn't discuss James's biography or musical lineage, but his performances are strong and convey emotional depth. Several tunes are taught in the "crossnote" D minor tuning that James adopted and used for some of his best-known early pieces, followed by others from the 1960s, played in standard tuning, then "Special Rider Blues" in open G tuning. The lesson includes James's 1930s recordings and several video segments of him performing in the 1960s. James's playing was sometimes erratic, particularly in his later years, and Feldman strikes a good balance by preserving odd bar lengths but smoothing out some of James's rhythms. By doing so, I sense he's presenting the spirit of these great guitar pieces without being slavishly purist. This lesson will pay off for intermediate and advanced guitarists who want to learn Skip James's guitar arrangements, although James's techniques also embody arranging concepts that are generally useful in fingerstyle playing, such as octave runs and placement of thematic lines in different registers. I strongly recommend it. - Patrick Ragains/Minor 7th

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