Best of Mance Lipscomb

Title: The Best of Mance Lipscomb

Arist: Mance Lipscomb

Label: Arhoolie

Catalog No.:  CD 537

Formats: CD, MP3

Release Date: December 15, 2009

For the first 65 years of his life, Mance Lipscomb spent his weekdays sharecropping or mowing roadsides in rural Texas, near Houston. On the weekends, he would entertain black and white audiences (whites on Friday and Sunday evenings, blacks on Saturday nights) with his guitar and voice. He called himself a “songster,” and could play anything from country blues to waltzes, two-steps and polkas. He never made recordings and was unknown beyond his corner of the wide expanse of Texas.

Then in 1960, a high school teacher named Chris Strachwitz traveled to Houston with a tape recorder and microphone looking to record Lightnin’ Hopkins, but Hopkins had left town to perform in California.  So Strachwitz headed out into the country around Houston looking for “any good guitar pickers in these parts,” he wrote in the liner notes to this CD.  He soon found Mance Lipscomb.  They recorded 23 songs that first evening, and both a recording career and record label were started.  Mance Lipscomb, 65-year-old country songster, was the first artist on Arhoolie Records, and that session led to the label’s first LP (#1001), Texas Sharecropper and Songster.

Over the last 15 years of his life, Lipscomb performed throughout the U.S. and recorded many times for Arhoolie.  This CD collects what the booklet describes as “the best of what Chris (Strachwitz) was able to capture on tape during his fifteen-year friendship with this generous, charming and talented man.”

The selections range from straight country blues to folk-tinged tales of adventure, misdeeds and love.  There are two electric-blues numbers, not the high points on the disc. The rest of the 22-song anthology is just Mance Lipscomb, his acoustic guitar and his voice. And that’s plenty.

Sound quality varies from “good field recording” to “passable live recording.” Most of the recordings are monophonic and none of this is what could be termed audiophile quality. But, the songs and the singer stand up well without great sound. The songs hold the listener’s attention because they are compelling and well-played. Lipscomb’s guitar playing, self-taught, is at times astounding and always tasteful.

Strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Tom Fine