Blues Bytes


December 2019

Various Artists
50 Years of Como MS Blues
Wolf Records

Como MS Blues

I always had a very fond spot in my heart for Mississippi Delta blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill. She was the headliner in one of the first shows I produced during the nascent years of my blues career, and we got to be very good friends over the years. So, of course, I was excited when this anthology, 50 Years of Como MS Blues, was shipped across the ocean to me from Austria-based Wolf Records, with six of its 18 cuts coming from the late Ms. Hemphill. But that's not all! There are also wonderful recordings from Fred McDowell, Ranie Burnette, R.L. Boyce, Eli Green, and Othar Turner.

The songs on this collection come from a variety of sources, many of them field recordings collected by producer Hannes Folerbauer on his trips from Austriato Como, Mississippi, with a few cuts having been on Smithsonian Folkways collections.

The Hemphill recordings are all from 1991, and include some of the same songs she recorded for Dr. David Evans more than 10 years earlier for High Water Records. Sound quality is outstanding on "Go Back to your used to be," "Shame on you" (two different takes), "Train, Train," "Eagle Bird," and "Shake it, Shake It."

The two McDowell cuts, recorded by Arhooliie Records chief Chris Strachwitz in 1965, are both outstanding: "Frisco LIne" and the exemplary "You Gotta Move."  From that same session McDowell also backs up Eli Green on "Brooks Run Into The Ocean" and "Bull Dog Blues," both written by McDowell. According to the very thorough liner notes, McDowell had taken Strachwitz to Green's house which did not have electricity, so they got only two songs recorded before the batteries ran out on the tape recorder being used.

Another major selling point for this collection is the inclusion of five original songs from Ranie Burnette, done on the same 1991 trip as the Hemphill cuts. This is raw Mississippi Hill Country blues at its best from a man who wasn't often recorded during his lifetime. I especially like his plucking of the guitar strings on "I Call My Baby."

Rounding out this disc are three more recent recordings by R.L. Boyce, captured during Folterbauer's tip to the area in 2017, and one from 1975 by Othar Turner. While the Boyce numbers came as much as 50 years after other recordings here, they possess the same rawness, energy and emotion as heard on the rest of the album, especially his medley of "Baby Please Don't Go - Lonesome Road." The lone Turner cut, the traditional "Rooster Blues," is extremely raw and wonderful.

An added bonus to this collection are the exhaustive liner notes with biographies and photos of each musician. 50 Years of Como MS Blues is one of the best blues retrospectives I've heard in a long time, and should be acquired by any fan of Mississippi Hill Country blues. Absolutely!

--- Bill Mitchell



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