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
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