"Josh At Midnight" Reissued by Ramseur Records

Fred Hellerman's obituary appeared in today's (Sept. 3, 2016) New York Times. Hellerman was the last surviving member of The Weavers, the folk group that helped usher in what became known as the "folk revival" of the late '50s and '60s.

Hellerman and the other Weavers, Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert and Lee Hayes were labeled communists and blacklisted. They were unable to perform on radio, television or at most concert venues. This after the group's single "Tzena, Tzena, Tzena"/"Goodnight Irene" sold two million copies.

The obit reminded me to get off my duff and review this recent Josh White reissue, the original of which was issued on Elektra back in 1956. Like The Weavers, Josh White was victimized by the McCarthy era communist paranoia.

White, like Paul Robeson, was a ground breaker. He was the first African-American singer and guitarist to star in a Hollywood film, he was the first African-American artist to give a White House "Command Performance" and he was a confidant of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who died before he probably would have been "blacklisted").

His list of "firsts" goes on from there but his civil rights activism, protest records and association with progressive political causes, stalled his career, though in 1944 he'd sold a million copies of "One Meat Ball".

When Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman chose to sign, record and release White LPs, it was a bold move. Originally released in 1956 Josh At Midnight was White's second Elektra record. It was recorded in a former church a few blocks from Columbia's famed 30th Street Studio using a single Telefunken U-47. With With White singing and accompanying himself on guitar plus Al Hall on bass and White friend Sam Gary on backing vocals, the excellent recorded balance was achieved by careful placement of the accompanists.

While White was a formidable guitarist and evocative singer, like The Weavers his music skirted the line between entertainment and the "authenticity" sought by the post war Boomer generation that gravitated towards the darker Delta and more raucous and raw Chicago electric blues.

White had a richer, vibrato laden voice that to the young generation sounded "old fashioned" and less authentic than the raw sounds they craved. But it would be a mistake to characterize White and his music as anything less than authentic, though it leaned more to folk than blues.

Nonetheless White's music had a great impact on '60s artists like, of course, Ry Cooder who covered "One Meat Ball" as well as on George Harrison, Roger McGuinn and John Fogerty among others and of course Harry Belafonte who tapped the same musical and entertainment vein but who arrived after the worst of the McCarthy era had passed. White eventually was seen performing on television with Jack Kennedy in the audience. Josh White passed away in 1969 at the age of fifty four.

Reissued by Ramsuer Records sixty years after it's original release, Josh at Midnight has lost none of its musical or sonic allure. Josh White's fluid guitar work still mesmerizes and his sensuousness and good humor are still fresh.

He covers "St James Infirmary" with a lilt, delivers some original and deeply felt blues numbers and relies on Biblical verse and spirituals throughout. The record is worth having for the guitar playing alone, which is not meant to slight White's powerful, often honey-toned vocals.

Jac Holzman oversaw this reissue, with Bruce Botnick transferring the fragile old tape at 192/24 bit and Bernie Grundman cutting lacquers. Nothing was done to the tape. It was a straight transfer and sounds so (though an AAA cut for comparison's sake would have been interesting!).

The monophonic sound is full, warm, rich and three-dimensional. I didn't have an original with which to compare the reissue but few originals of that era sound this full and warm. I'd wager the original is brighter, thinner and more "metallic" sounding, though probably somewhat more transparent. Lights down and played at the appropriate level you'll travel back sixty years in time and feel as if you're in the church.

Stoughton Press Tip-On jacket and RTI 180 gram pressing make this a deluxe reissue done right, even with the digits. The reissue producer and label owner wishes to offer AnalogPlanet readers an exclusive 20% off offer on the company's on-line store. Use the promo code: RAM02_20.

teachscience's picture

Bought it! Not familiar w2ith this artist and 20% off of $18.99 is a great deal.

Edward1991's picture

Yeah, I think it's a great price. I'm not familiar with the artist either. Is it worth it? Would you recommend the record?


gbougard's picture

It is available for listening on Apple Music: it's the 2005 reissue by Atlantic Records and not this vinyl reissue, evidently. But at least you'll get a pretty good idea what this album is about


ramseurrecords's picture

I am glad your article mentioned Roger McGuinn. I knew he was a big fan of Josh's music. So we sent him a copy of "Josh At Midnight." Below is his response:

"Thank you very much for sending the great record! I listened to it today and it sounded wonderful! Made me dig out my turntable and find a phono preamp for my audio system which didn't have one. Now I'm back in the vinyl club. :-)"

Michael Fremer's picture
all I have to say...
myheroiscoltrane's picture

This review makes me want to have a listen; it's been a while....will let folks know how it sounds, with the proviso that my system is quite modest in comparison.

myheroiscoltrane's picture

OK, so my copy is pretty bad shape, but even with all the scratches and wear, the sound is warm and full. Bass reaches really deep, and the voices are in the room with me. The dynamics are great. I might just have to get the reissue; I have several other Josh White titles, but this one just became my favorite - side 2 is killer!

JEB-42's picture

is alone worth the price of admission! Purchased. Thanks for the Tip-On (pun intended) this record and for the discount coupon! Look forward to receiving this one.

mraudioguru's picture

...also has this and many other Josh White albums

Lazer's picture

But I am going to be a little more familiar soon. I ordered this album beacause of Mikey's review; I've done this many other times and have never been disappointed.

volunteer's picture

I have it on Electra EKL-102. I'll have to check the dead wax to see if I can determine how early. It doesn't sound thin or metallic. It actually, sounds wonderful in big, rich mono. Tempted to buy the reissue to compare but absolutely love this copy.