Big Bill Broonzy, Big Bill Broonzy Sings Folk Songs

Yancey Strickler

By Yancey Strickler

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The chugging sound of locomotive blues.

On this 1956 recording, the Chicago-born bluesman Big Bill Broonzy provides arguably the greatest performance of "John Henry" ever. Broonzy, a Carnegie Hall performer and favorite of the legendary John Hammond, absolutely steamrolls this traditional, hammering at his six strings so ferociously that they sound industrial, its 4/4 gait chugging like a locomotive, his voice — which changes in volume as his picking sends him reeling from the microphone — soaring and insatiable. Halfway through the pace accelerates as a banjo arrives like a flash flood, the song's inherent momentum impossible to stop.