Various Artists

Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt

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If you assemble a bunch of above-average artists to pay tribute to a major artist, is the result an above-average tribute record? Not always, but in this case it is. Organized and executive-produced by Peter Case, this contains covers of the Mississippi bluesman's songs by more than a dozen medium-big and very-big names from the folk and rock worlds, including Beck, Taj Mahal, Bruce Cockburn, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle (dueting with Justin Earle), Ben Harper, Peter Case & Dave Alvin (performing together), Geoff Muldaur, Gillian Welch, and John Hiatt. It's more a folk-rock-blues crossover album than a Delta blues one, which is fine: tribute albums shouldn't be re-creations of the originals, and whether or not it was the intention, it will expose some of John Hurt's songs to fans who identify themselves primarily as folk or rock listeners. And not many of these songs are very well-known, with the exception of "Candy Man" (done by Steve & Justin Earle) and "Stagolee" (sung by Beck). The arrangements are low-key and respectful, the best ones being Ben Harper's "Sliding Delta" (which is one of the bluesiest performances) and Victoria Williams' "Since I've Laid My Burden Down," which has very eccentric banjo sounds.

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