Vicksburg Blues

Pianist/clarinetist Butch Thompson and guitarist Pat Donohue are certainly no strangers to fans of the radio program A Prairie Home Companion, where they’ve entertained listeners for several decades. Now—at long last—they’ve teamed up to make their first record together, and it’s a beauty. Their collaborative effort harks back to the recordings made in the ’20s and ’30s by pianist Leroy Carr and guitarist Scrapper Blackwell, and among the 19 selections are four of Carr’s compositions, including “How Long Blues,” his most famous piece. Taken at a slow pace, Thompson’s piano introduction leads into Donohue’s mournful singing, “How long, how long, has that evenin’ train been gone?” as he bemoans his baby’s departure. The Grammy-winning guitarist is a finger-picking champ, and his talent is very much on display in his solo performance of his own “Better Days,” a peppy piece very much in keeping with the tradition they both celebrate here. As a reminder of the time limit imposed by the 78 rpm format of the original recordings, all but four of the songs hover around the three-minute mark, with Thompson’s delicate rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “219 Blues” one of the exceptions. This is a striking album that celebrates the music of some of the progenitors of the blues.