Saturday, 12 September 2015

"The Complete Studio Recordings" by MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT (2000 Ace/Vanguard 3CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Coffeehouse Blues In Beulah Land..." 

You could argue that Mississippi John Hurt isn't a Blues Artist at all - but a Folk Singer like Josh White who happened to be a black entertainer. But that's to downplay or even dismiss the quiet majesty and magic that exudes from these 1966 recordings of just a man and his guitar (literally). There's a sweetness to his fingerpicking delivery of songs about wanderlust men ("Talking Casey"), frisky gals with their daddies gone out on Saturday night ("Richland Woman Blues") and murder in small town America ("First Shot Missed Him") - a sort of calming effect as his nimble fingers roll over the frets and the stories unfold. Here are the burdens laid down...

UK released 31 October 2000 (November 2000 in the USA) – "The Complete Studio Recordings" by MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT on Ace Records/Vanguard Masters 3VCD 181 (Barcode 090204991754) is a 3CD set and breaks down as follows:

Disc 1 – "Today!" – 43:50 minutes:
1. Pay Day
2. I'm Satisfied
3. Candy Man
4. Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor
5. Talking Casey
6. Corinna, Corinna
7. Coffee Blues [Side 2]
8. Louis Collins
9. Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight
10. If You Don't Want Me Baby
11. Spike Driver Blues
12. Beulah Land
Tracks 1 to 12 are the album "Today!" – released 1966 in the USA on Vanguard VSD-79220

Disc 2 – "The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt" – 37:48 minutes:
1. Since I've Laid My Burden Down
2. Moaning The Blues
3. Stocktime (Buck Dance)
4. Lazy Blues
5. Richland Woman Blues
6. Wise And Foolish Virgins (Tender Virgins)
7. Hop Joint
8. Monday Morning Blues [Side 2]
9. I've Got The Blues And I Can’t Be Satisfied
10. Keep On Knocking
11. Chicken
12. Stagolee
13. Nearer My God To Thee
Tracks 1 to 13 are the album "The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt" – released in 1967 in the USA on Vanguard VSD-79248. He died in his sleep November 1966 aged 73.

Disc 3 – "Last Sessions" – 46:51 minutes:
1. Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home
2. Boys You're Welcome
3. Joe Turner Blues
4. First Shot Missed Him
5. Farther Along
6. Funky Butt
7. Spider, Spider
8. Waiting For You
9. Shortnin' Bread
10. Trouble, I've Had It All My Days
11. Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me
12. Good Morning, Carrie
13. Nobody Cares For Me
14. All Night Long
15. Hey, Honey, Right Away
16. You've Got To Die
17. Goodnight Irene
Tracks 1 to 17 are the album "Last Sessions" which feature February 1966 sessions finally released 1972 in the USA on Vanguard VSD-79327.

TOM VICKERS produced the reissue and the 8-page inlay has liner notes by JOHN MILWARD who has contributed articles to the New York Times and Rolling Stone. He talks of John Hurt's extraordinary life – born into Carroll County in Mississippi – recording his first sides in 1928 for Okeh Records – then disappearing into varying work for the next 38 years. Then at the sprightly age of 71 – he’s rediscovered by collectors to be still living in Avalon – records these sides and after the debut album release in 1966 – gets a second chance – picked up upon by an adoring American public who have gone gaga for both Folk and Blues music. Legendarily he recorded the music on this 3CD set in only three days – just him and his guitar. The first album came out in 1966, the second in 1967 (after he'd sadly passed away in November 1966) and the third set showed up posthumously in 1972. The 3CD compilation was engineered for release by JEFF ZARAYA using the original analogue tape and remastered to 20-bit digital using the Sonic Solutions process. The Audio is lovely – just him and his Acoustic – small amounts of hiss – but nothing that detracts too much.

It opens with "Pay Day" which establishes his fingerpicking style – a soft rolling rhythm he uses on almost every song (those expecting slashing slide and bottleneck should turn away). Favourites of mine are "Coffee Blues" where he sings the praise of Maxwell House and the chipper upbeat rollick of "Hot Time In Old Town Tonight". His huge personal warmth comes out in "If You Don't Want Me Baby" where he recounts "...I tried my best to do my father's will..." and the simple but touching "Spike Driver Blues" where "...John Henry was a steel-driving man..." The album ends with another Americana picker called "Beulah Land" where his 'mother is way beyond the sky'...

The 2nd LP offers more of the same – but in my book has the better tunes. It opens with the load-off song "Since I Lay My Burden Down" and the superb dual guitars of "Moaning The Blues". He slaps the guitar frame on "Stocktime (Buck Dance)" with his fingertips while the short but cool "Lazy Blues" is 1:30 minutes of acoustic magic. His lyrics on "Wise And Foolish Virgins (Tender Virgins)" could have been pervy but end up being so obtuse that you don't know what Buddah was doing (probably best that way). Another nice doubling-up of guitars comes with "Monday Morning Blues" – a sweet lollygagging tune that ambles in and wins your heart. For me the "Last Sessions” record is the worst of the three - feeling like stuff that was tried but not deemed good enough. "Joe Turner Blues" is uncharacteristically bitter (Big Joe dipping his toes into bedrooms he should stay out of) but the delightfully titled "Funky Butt" has that charm and wit that served him so well on the first two albums.

It's not all genius as some claim and after a while the same song and style can wear – but sometimes like Springsteen's "Nebraska" or Muddy's "Folk Singer" – it's that very sparseness that you crave. And as he sings "Nearer My God To Thee" (only a few months later, he would be) – it's hard not to be just a little in love with this gentle and humble troubadour.

The lonesome train rattles down the tracks in the midday sun and old Mississippi John Hurt is riding it...heading to that great gig in the sky...a smile on his lived-in face...with his trusty acoustic guitar in hand...going home...

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