Vinyl Review: Double Album by the Memphis Jug Band

Album: Double Album – 28 songs!

Artist: The Memphis Jug Band

Year: 1981 (2013 Re-issue)

Label: Yazoo

Tested On: Ortofon 2M Red – Luxman PD-282 – Luxman R-1050 – Dynaco A-25

Every once in a while, life grants us the opportunity to encounter something truly and wholly beautiful. One such occasion occurred a few weeks ago when I paid my first visit to Cheap Thrills Records, and stumbled upon a double LP by the Memphis Jug Band. The album art, illustrated by cartoonist Robert Crumb, immediately caught my eye. Crumb was a pioneer of 1960s underground comics, leading him to be approached to produce album art for the iconic Janis Joplin record Cheap Thrills, not so coincidentally the record store’s moniker.

Though Crumb “immediately regretted” accepting this work for ethical reasons, he has since produced album art for other, more obscure, talent. Robert Crumb’s unmistakable graphics cover the front and back of the Jug Band’s gatefold sleeve, for this reason alone making it worth the purchase. Having said that, this 180-gram pressing of 28 classic jazz, rag and blues numbers would be a must-have regardless of celebrity endorsed packaging.

Side A gets off to a jubilant start with “I’ll See You in the Spring”. It is quite possibly the most charming song I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear: an ode to the more inextinguishable varieties of human connectivity. Other highlights include “Ambulance Man” and “K.C. Moan”, a track which I can’t help but read as a lamentation on the loss of that unimaginable and transcendent vision that comes to few and endures for even fewer. Some noteworthy omissions on this record are the Jug Band classics “Going Back to Memphis” and “In the Jailhouse Now”. These tracks, however, are easily accessible at your local library. Most of these songs are deeply allegorical, allowing the Jug Band to address issues of sex and drugs with impunity, despite the cultural constraints of the late 20s and early 30s. Music this good could well be described as the very distillate of human reality.

As a pressing, this album is simply exquisite. To be sure, the original source material (vintage 78’s provided by collectors) is about as far from high fidelity as one can get, but the raw beauty of these primitive recordings is captured with aplomb. The lovely and spherical monophonic soundstage is so enveloping, I felt like I was crawling around in the grooves of the original source records, tripping on every scratch, and enjoying it all the more for its imperfections. The transfer and mastering of this album excellently work to circumvent and remove the worst bits of surface noise and groove wear from each original. The characteristic history of each track shines through, though, and it becomes evident which discs had a hard life, and which were treated dearly. This, of course, speaks volumes about the high quality of the LP. As a piece of visual art, as a historical document, and most of all as a compendium of charming classic songs, this album is a treasure if ever there was one. Play this on a good stereo and you’ll finally learn what it’s like to stand face-to-face with God.