Review: A Tribute To James Yank Rachell – 1910-1997

Posted on: Wednesday, Apr 22, 2009

“A Tribute To James ‘Yank’ Rachell – 1910-1997”

(Yanksville Records – yr012708)

The blues is well known for its plethora of great guitarists, pianists and harmonica players, but the late James “Yank” Rachell was the primary mandolin player of the genre – born in Brownsville, Tennessee in 1910, died Indianapolis, Indiana in 1997 – and this affectionate tribute recording boasts a generous 21 tracks, including such well-known musicians as John Sebastian, David Grisman, Tim O’Brien and Rich DelGrosso, to name but a few.

Rachell taught himself mandolin at the age of eight, and in the early 1920s’ was playing dances with the legendary Sleep John Estes – whose “Brownsville Blues” is featured here. Indianapolis became his long-time home and this project was based there – with a broad mix of blues, country, folk and gospel.

Bluegrass star Tim O’Brien kicks the whole thing off with a lovely “Texas Tony”, highlighting his virtuoso mandolin playing; with a fine vocal from Karen Irwin on “She Caught The Katy”. A delightfully humorous spoken piece from John Sebastian leads into “Tappin’ That Thing”, with him on vocals and guitar, accompanied by David Grisman on mandolin.

Andra Faye of the Uppity Blues Women contributes a strong performance on “My Baby’s Gone”, with the timeless “Sitting On Top Of The World” delivered quite beautifully by Peter Rowan and Lowell Levinger – the latter on a National steelbody mandolin and sounding quite lovely!

An electric “Divin’ Duck” features a nice band arrangement, special mentions to Alan Stratyner on harmonica and vocal from Gregy Ashby; with another vocal from Karen Irwin on “My Mind Got Bad” being another of the release’s highlights.

The end track is Yank Rachell’s favourite gospel song, “Freedom”, recorded by his daughters, May Nell and Willia B, with granddaughter Sheena – a nice end to a charming release – with net proceeds from sales going to benefit his family.


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