Louisiana Red

When My Mama Was Living

(Labor Records)

Louisiana Red, When My Mama Was Living, album cover

Louisiana Red was an old-school bluesman. He had a searing, knife-in-your-gut voice that sounded as if his lyrics were experiences he was having at that very moment, not just things he remembered from his past. Buy on AmazonBuy on iTunes
Given his bad luck, violent history, this is not surprising. He also fulfilled the portrayal of bluesman as wanderer as his music took him from Pittsburgh to New York, New Jersey to Montreux Switzerland. And his guitar playing was deceptively simple in notes, but complex in its power and sound. As Robert Palmer has defined it, Red’s blues were “deep blues.” The tracks on this were recorded in the mid-’70s when Louisiana Red was making his slow comeback. It is mainly vocals, guitar, and harmonica. This sparseness is effective as it allows all the focus to be on his voice, the music, and the sentiments that power them. His lament for his mother “When My Mama Was Living” is heartfelt and emotional in its starkness. This feeling continues in his resigned death song “Cold White Sheet.” Both these tunes are around the 5-minute range, allowing for the intensity to increase like someone’s hands slowly squeezing a throat. This intensity also holds for the more propulsive numbers such as the caught-you-cheating kiss-off of “Caught Your Man and Gone.” Whether sad or angry, the menace in Louisiana Red’s voice and music is a constant presence, and it makes for a great acoustic record well suited for a dark, low-lit evening of reflection rather than an epic dance party.