Released in 1992, but hard to find ever since, the soundtrack to the movie Deep Blues (Atlantic/Anxious), is a disc worth seeking out.
Loosely based on the late Robert Palmer’s classic book, the movie took a look at the music of the Mississippi Delta and filmed performances by such luminaries as R.L. Burnside, Jr. Kimbrough, Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost, Jessie Mae Hemphill, “Booba” Barnes, Lonnie Pitchford, and Jack Owens.
For many listeners at the time, it was their first opportunity to hear most of these artists and Palmer’s production is absolutely spotless. You can hear bottles clanking during Kimbrough’s performance, which was recorded at his juke joint near Holly Springs. All the performances were recorded live, either at clubs (Johnson and Frost at the Pastimes Lounge in Clarksdale, Barnes at the Playboy Club in Greenville, Hemphill at Holly Springs) or at the musician’s home (Burnside, Owens, & Pitchford).
Burnside’s two tracks (“Jumper on the Line” and “Long Haired Doney”) are probably the best recordings of these two songs, while Kimbrough’s standard, “Jr. Blues” is almost hypnotic.
Johnson’s three cuts, all from his '80s Earwig records, display plenty of Johnson’s crowd-pleasing guitar and captures his live show perfectly. The Frost tune, the title cut from his Earwig release, Midnight Prowler, is initially plagued by sound problems, but ends up being a pretty good cut.
Hemphill’s two tracks successfully capture her down-home sound as well. Barnes’ three cuts are outstanding. He had to be heard (and seen) live to truly be appreciated. Lonnie Pitchford’s two Robert Johnson songs eerily resemble their originator, and Jack Owens (with the ubiquitous Bud Spires on harmonica) closes out the disc with a great taste of Bentonia Blues on Owens’ “Devil Blues.”
Listening to this disc now, it’s somewhat disheartening to realize that of the nine performers present, six have either died (Kimbrough, Frost, Pitchford, Owens, and Barnes) or are now unable to perform due to health problems (Hemphill). It’s also disheartening to realize that this disc has basically been out of print since not long after its release in 1992, but at least the DVD is available if you can’t find the CD.
This is one disc that is worth searching for.
--- Graham Clarke
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