It’s impossible to fit a comprehensive anthology of Mississippi Blues on one disc--and sure, there are whole traditions neglected here--but Putumayo proves again they can make a representative collection. Their Mississippi Blues is a great disc showcasing really great music.
First off, Luther Allison sets the minor key, bent-string, and soulful mood with "Part Time Love." Allison was born in 1939, the 14th of 15 children in an Arkansas cotton farming family. He migrated to Chicago, went electric, and became a singer/songwriter/guitarist. Late in life, he returned to the US from Paris and became a wildly successful comeback story until his unexpected death in 1997.
Junior Wells follows with "Come on in This House," a Southern country blues classic from his twilight years. He was born in Memphis in 1934 and moved upriver to Chicago at 12 years old. Wells’ fame was earned playing harmonica for Muddy Watters, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and others, but became a substantial leader in his own rite. He toured as the opener for the Rolling Stones and appeared in Blues Brothers 2000. Known for his lifelong tough-guy antics and possible army AWOL status, Wells will not be easily forgotten.
Blues pioneer singer/songwriter/guitarist Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup (1905-1974) weighs in with "Mean Ol' Frisco," featuring the line "That’s all right, Mama. That’s all right with me" which also appears in another Crudup song which launched Elvis Presley’s career in 1956. Elvis eventually covered a total of three Crudup tunes, just one indicator of his influence on Rock & Roll. He also migrated up the Mississippi to Chicago. That’s three for three, for those of you keeping track.
Smooth Blues singer Artie "Blues Boy" White is the first survivor of the set. His performance of "The More You Lie to Me" is a typical tale of cruel circumstance. This track features pioneer Blues pianist Pinetop Perkins. White enjoyed crossover success in Gospel and Rhythm & Blues as well. And yes, he moved from Mississippi to Chicago.
Ike and Tina Turner are actually not associated with Chicago; their Mississippi river association cut across the South and St. Louis, Missouri. Their 1969 B.B. King cover "3 O’clock in the Morning Blues" is a perfect example of their spontaneous combustion. Villianized forever for his abusive behavior portrayed in the movie What's Love Got to Do With It?, Ike’s power found a much better outlet on the piano and guitar, and he remains a formidable bluesman to this day. Of course everyone knows of Tina Turner’s amazing comeback from the 1980s on.
Beloved blues singer Bobby Bland lends his interpretation of the standard "St. James Infirmary," second only to the immortal Louie Armstrong version. His growl and Memphis style horn section define Southern soul.
"Make Me a Pallet on the Floor" is an unforgettable performance by Mississippi John Hurt (1893-1966.) Unlike many famous bluesmen, Hurt was charming, soft-spoken, always acoustic, and never moved away from Mississippi.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Thomas King, son of Tabby Thomas, is most famous for his portrayal of real-life Delta bluesman Tommy Johnson in the movie Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, who sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads even before Robert Johnson. He is also one of the most famous young Blues musicians, willing to fuse Blues with Hip Hop and modern production techniques as a link in the music’s natural evolution. The Robert Johnson standard "Come on in My Kitchen" is subdued here, but also electrified by King’s electric guitar voice-box effect.
The inimitable John Lee Hooker (1917-2001) shows up here with his classic "Baby Don't Do Me Wrong," featuring his signature Southern singing, stomping, and improvisatory guitar stylings. Hooker’s raw musicality reminds many of the Blues’ African heritage.
"I Got to Make a Change Blues" demonstrates beautifully Memphis Minnie’s commanding, independent nature. In her music and in her life, she bravely stood against stereotypical male supremacy. Women musician who followed, and music fans everywhere, will be forever grateful.
Memphis Slim is the collection’s only Blues pianist, his "Stewball" tells of the blind horse that outran its own shadow. Famous Blues bassist Willie Dixon backs him here. The two provide a wonderful example of walking lines, call-and-response affirmations, and punctuated turn-arounds.
Despite the depressive reputation of Blues music, Putumayo makes good on their motto, "Guaranteed to make you feel good!" Like each of their releases, the colorful cover painting, educational liner notes, and vivid photography make Mississippi Blues a real treasure. Highly recommended to all music fans.
Putumayo is well known for charity in many parts around the world. Thankfully, they recognize needs even at home. In light of the recent hurricane damage in Louisiana and Mississippi, Putumayo World Music is donating all proceeds from their excellent CDs New Orleans and Mississippi Blues to relief efforts until the end of 2006.
For information, feel free to contact:
-David Seymour is a jazz journalist in Saint Louis, Missouri, USA.