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Cephas and Wiggins
Like other D.C.-based Piedmont musicians including John Jackson, Warner Williams, Jay Summerour, and Archie Edwards, Cephas and Wiggins present the blues of the the region that stretches from Maryland and Virginia through the Carolinas into Georgia. New listeners will make inevitable comparisons to the guitar and harmonica music of Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, but Cephas and Wiggins are musical innovators as much as they are preservationists. John Cephas’ gospel-trained vocals and masterful fingerpicking are perfectly matched with Phil Wiggins’ brilliant lead and rhythm harp technique. The music is simultaneously intense and relaxed, and the songs have a way of getting inside your head for days on end. The duo performs material from the late ’20s and early ’30s, with songs by Blind Boy Fuller (“Screaming and Crying”), the Rev. Gary Davis (“Twelve Gates to the City”), and Skip James (“Special Rider”), among others. Cephas and Wiggins each offer three originals that reflect contemporary themes but are performed with a deep respect for tradition. “Cool Down,” a Wiggins song about escalating violence, combines a powerful message with the harpist’s only lead vocal. Cephas’ soothing instrumental, “Caroline in the Morning,” has a back-porch feel that suggests that the blues can be played in a spirit of celebration. Arrangements on a few of the tunes include piano, clarinet, and percussion, showing the adaptability of the Piedmont blues to fit a wide variety of musical (and social) contexts. Whether performing with Senegalese kora player Djimo Kouyate or interpreting Merle Travis’ arrangement of “Nine Pound Hammer,” Cephas and Wiggins welcome and incorporate elements not only from the Piedmont, but from other regions and traditions as well. CP