various artists,
Preachin' the Blues:
The Music of
Mississippi Fred McDowell

(Telarc, 2002)

I'd never heard of Fred McDowell but I've always had a liking for blues. We don't get a lot of exposure to that genre where I come from, but it is available if you decide that's your cup of tea. You might be drinking alone a lot though.

Fred McDowell died in 1972 and 30 years later there's still a lot of reflection on his music. A great contingent of fans exists out there and his music gets a lot of respect from musicians in the know. The musicians who play in tribute on this CD say they're not attempting to imitate Fred McDowell's playing or singing. They talk about how his music can be molded and played in many styles and yet remain recognized as McDowell music. Based on that strength, it has a long shelf life.

The 15 musicians who play on The Music of Mississippi Fred McDowell use their own interpretations and voices. Since I've never heard him play his own music, I'm going to comment only on the performances on this CD.

Guitar happens to be the master here, though there's an instrumental piano solo and a few pieces with added harmonica and a couple with bass and drums included. Those last two were my favorite. Colleen Sexton supplies vocals and Gary Hoover does guitar, Dan Corbett adds bass and Darren Thiboutet supplies drums on the cut "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning." The same instrumentalists join vocalist Johnny Sansone to play "That's Alright." I like the rhythm that they've got going on both of these tracks.

If I had to pick another couple, I'd pick "Kokomo Blues" with Anders Osborne on vocals and guitar and Tab Benoit doing the same thing on "Train I Ride." Oh, can these guys play guitar! And then "Highway 61," with a smooth, laid-back sound from Charlie Musselwhite is right up there, too. The rest are a little uneven, a little rough for my liking. I get a little impatient listening to them, but even good blues can do that to me. It picks at you in strange places like a naughty older brother.

Admittedly, Sue Foley plays a great guitar, too. A heavy strum and a good hand, but her voice on "Frisco Line" wasn't what I wanted to hear. Brian Stolz's voice was great on "You Gotta Move," but I wasn't keen on the guitar playing. I know it's a style but the strings were just too loose for my ear.

The rest were all real bluesy blues, too, but I like a little more rhythm in my cup, a little bit of mix to spike that tea up a bit, you know. Paul Geremia starts the CD off with a real old sound as he sings "Get Right Church" and he plays with a passion. There's a wicked bunch of guitar playing, but you'd be hard put to keep up with David Maxwell on his piano cut. Scott Holt adds a bit of electricity, Steve James is down and dirty, and Kenny Neal soulfully makes that harmonica cry as he plays "Fred's Worried Life Blues" away.

All the cuts pack a punch, but some of them are just a little more entertaining, a little more in the groove than others. It may religiously be called Preachin' the Blues, but I think it's a pluckin' good listen.

[ by Virginia MacIsaac ]
Rambles: 4 May 2002

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