Preachin' the Blues -
The blues revival of the late '50s and '60s restored many a great player to his rightful place, but in the case of Mississippi Fred McDowell, it also captured a long overlooked genius for the first time. McDowell was born in 1904 in Tennessee but after his parents died in his early teens he took to the road, eventually settling in Como Mississippi, in the northwest corner of the state, falling into the life a weekday farmer and weekend musician. It was not until he was 55 that Alan Lomax finally discovered and recorded the man. At that, it took a further five years before the Arhoolie label came looking and McDowell recorded his first full length album. Perhaps it was the fact that success came so late for McDowell that allowed him to accept it for what it was without allowing it to change what or how he played. Whatever it was, for the next seven years McDowell revitalized the folk-blues circuit. Combining the profane and the profound, country, gospel and blues, McDowell showed that Delta-blues remained a vital and authentic musical force.
With this various artists collection Telarc has assembled 12 folk and blues players and paired them with prime McDowell. From the supremely beautiful voice of Colleen Sexton exhorting us on "Keep your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" to Scott Holt's lecherous come-on of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl", this set covers the territory McDowell laid out with perfection. All but two of the tracks here are solo, usually guitar and voice only, as befits McDowell's style. The opener, "Get Right Church", puts Paul Geremia's slide up front. Over 5 minutes long, it shines with ageless beauty and graceful wisdom. "You Gotta Move", covered by Brain Stoltz, reflects craggy, hard-knocks suffering, while Tab Benoit is almost unrecognizable on perfect reading of "Train I Ride". In fact, both Benoit and Charlie Musselwhite, who crawls inside "61 Highway", turn in performances here that far exceed anything on their most recent albums.
Top to bottom, Preachin' the Blues, sets the standard for this Telarc series highlighting the masters. The sound is what every album should be, detailed and clear, but also rich, vibrant and life-like with performances that match in every way. There is not a bad track here, hell, there isn't a bad note here. That said, if you do not have the originals of these songs please check out the Arhoolie compilations, The Best of Mississippi Fred McDowell, and especially, You Gotta Move, as well. both of which are in print and feature a wide sampling of what the man himself did.
Sound Quality: 100