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Indianapolis-based Slippery Noodle Sound has issued a new recording featuring the blues mandolin of James “Yank” Rachell. At age 87, Rachell is in top form on this disc, his performances rivaling those on his Delmark and Blind Pig sessions from the late ’70s and early ’80s. Originally from Brownsville, Tenn., Rachell performed with Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon in the late 1920s, when the mandolin was commonly played in black string bands. As the blues took on an urban sophistication and the instrument declined in popularity, Yank continued to play mandolin on recordings throughout the 1930s and into the early ’40s with musicians such as Elijah Jones, Washboard Sam, and the first Sonny Boy Williamson. When the music became electric, Yank adapted his approach and style, plugging in and making the mandolin a lead instrument that could compete with the electric guitar. Pig Trader Blues returns to an acoustic framework, featuring prewar string band and blues repertoire, and newer tunes that provide glimpses of Rachell’s urban approach. Highlights include “I Love My Woman,” “Dark Cloud Rising,” and “She Caught the Katy.” While Yank is masterful on this recording, he is poorly matched with David Morgan. An accomplished acoustic guitarist, Morgan often plays against Rachell instead of backing him, as if attempting to justify his co-billing. Morgan, who also produced the album, must be given credit, however, for getting Yank back in the studio. On one track, Yank tells the story of how, at 8 years old, he bartered the family pig for his first mandolin. With a musical career that has spanned more than 70 years, I’d say it was a pretty good trade.

—Matt Watson