BLUES REVUE MAGAZINE review of Snapshots

by Tom Hyslop, Issue No. 96 Oct/Nov 2005

Acoustic blues recordings have a harder road to the marketplace than contemporary-sounding electric projects. Chicago’s Diamond Jim Greene learned this while shopping Snapshots and ultimately resorted to releasing the album independently. Now that it’s available, traditionalists will be grateful for his initiative. In Greene’s words, Snapshots is so named because “ each on of these songs is a still photograph representing different times in the evolution of the blues.”

The song selection reflects both Greene’s scholarly eye and his ability to harmonize disparate elements. The death letter of Bo Carter’s “New Stop and Listen” with its rudely ascending bass walkup and skittering, mandolin-like treble figures, segues smoothly into the intense soul of Ray Charles’ “Drown in My Own Tears.” Greene’s radical rethinking of Tampa Red’s “Things About Coming My Way” incorporates bagpipes, a slide solo that sketches “Amazing Grace” and Myles Goddard’s recitation of the Ojibwa death song, yet remains inarguably bluesy. A small combo take on Willie Brown’s “M&O Blues” seems a natural precursor to the rocking, ‘50’s –style electric interpretation of Tampa Red’s “Don’t You Lie to Me.” Effective, sensitive solo version of songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson and Willie McTell set the tone for originals such as the memoir “Blindman” for his mentor Arvella Gray, and two very different takes on love lost, “I Don’t Got You” and “If You Go (You Stay Gone).”

The trebly timbre and forceful projection of Greene’s voice call to mind a prewar artist trying to move air while singing into a horn microphone, or to be heard at a party or club. He mainly plays National resonator guitars, but 12 string acoustics are featured on four tracks, a six-string acoustic on one, and electric guitar on two. Greene is an accomplished fingerpicker and slide guitarist who works effectively in Delta and early Chicago veins as well as the East Coast style of Blind Boy Fuller.

Though five performances feature Greene alone, he keeps good company. Willie “Big Eyes” Smith plays drums, in tandem with Bob Stroger or Willie Kent on bass, on half the songs; Daryl Couts drives “Nobody Knows You (When You’re Down and Out)”with jaunty piano and adds B-3 textures to “Drown in My Own Tears”; and Chicagoans Nick Moss and Matthew Skoller are on hand for one-off appearances. Producer Dave Katzman supports “Tears” on electric guitar and plays lovely, understated acoustic against Greene’s declamatory vocals on Big Bill Broonzy’s “Keep On Drinking.”

Snapshots reminds us of the ongoing validity of the term “album” in a musical context—-an album is a collection of songs, much like a collection of photographs— and frees us from the ugly descriptor “CD.” Photographs record the past and offer insight to viewers later, and these Snapshots, in their vivid re-creation of traditional styles, yield enjoyment for present-day listeners. This rewarding project marries determination and technique with an abiding respect for blues tradition.