Raw Sugar provides 71 minutes of old-time music enhanced by a warm, clear sound quality. Cootie Stark, a Greenville, South Carolina native, survives as one of the last authentic Piedmont blues guitarist/singer alive. Stark played on the streets of Knoxville, Greensboro, Columbia, and other southern cities for fifty years. Stark’s education included learning music at the feet of blues legends Pink Anderson, Walter Phelps and Peg Leg Sam in his younger days.
The usual cast of Music Maker musical characters appear on this album such as Taj Mahal, John Ferguson, Abe Reid, Lightning Wells, Ardie Dean, Dan Duffy, and the ever-present Tim Duffy. According to Duffy, “That record is a Taj Mahal masterpiece. The whole album was recorded with just two microphones all in one take. My whole collection is just one take.”
“I’m So Lonely” contains a cathartic effect in all its glorious desolation, while “Big Leg Women” rekindles faith in the good times (“you got something make a bulldog hug a hound”). The traditional string band version of “Alberta” causes one to tap a toe on every beat; Cootie also renders a fine version of Memphis Minnie’s “Set A Date”.
Raw Sugar solidifies Stark’s undeniable legacy, remaining one of the final American bluesmen continuing to make music after six decades.
- James Calemine