Big Bill Broonzy claims, “All songs in the world that you sing are folk songs, because horses don’t sing.” On the straightforward solo acoustic Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953, he offers originals and interpretations, many of which have become folk and blues standards, including “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” “Down by the Riverside,” “Glory of Love,” “John Henry,” “Trouble in Mind,” “The Midnight Special,” “Good Night Irene,” and more.

It’s music that began to fall out of fashion in the United States with the advent of electric guitars, clinging to life around folk festival campfires and in small European nightclubs.

Broonzy, who died of throat cancer in 1958, shares his dry wit and wisdom between songs, stating that the best way to learn to play the blues is to go to a teacher and learn the right way to play music, then forget all that and just play what you feel; and that the repetitive form of the blues has developed because “if you don’t get it the first time, then you gets it the next time.”


The monologues — personal experiences, stories, commentaries on lingering cultural issues — add a layer of subtext to the songs. While whites often reflect on the era as simpler, it was when blacks were still being lynched. “The Midnight Special” doesn’t refer to sex, as commonly supposed. It’s a euphemism for going to the electric chair.

The two-c.d., two-hour box set, with extensive liner notes and dozens of photographs, was recorded — excellently — by Dutchman Louis van Gasteren, who eventually became an acclaimed filmmaker. The performances on Amsterdam Live Concerts 1953 have never before been released. They’re 50 years late, but you know the old saying.

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