Various Artists

Blues in the Mississippi Night [2003 Rounder]

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The original recording sessions for most of the material on this CD took place in 1947 and there have been at least three different releases since then. As if someone was experiencing the daily oncome of a sticky Mississippi summer, the night indeed gets longer each time Blues in the Mississippi Night comes around, with each successive release adding more and more unreleased material. The latest joyful collaboration between the Alan Lomax Archive and the Rounder label might be considered an effort to create something for hoarders to put on shelves originally considered essential for survival provisions in the new-millennium meltdown. Out of stacks of releases associated with this series, Blues in the Mississippi Night retains important place because of its documentary nature. This distinction, however, might make the collection less than essential for listeners desiring pure music and very little talking. On the other hand, it means that this CD is a winner for school library collections, especially in institutions where this music is studied. "Very little talking" would hardly ever describe the life of blues great Memphis Slim, whose ebullient singing and outlook set the stage for the proceedings with the opening track, "Life Is Like That." He is one of three principal participants in these sessions -- the others are Big Bill Broonzy, and the first Sonny Boy Williamson. Such a gathering of greats doesn't come close to coasting as they work through songs together in various combinations, alternating the leads. It is not the starkest, deepest, most intense blues ever recorded, but these performances are rich in quality and spirit, like a brilliant string quartet at work. The fellows chatter a lot, defining the music they play and recounting anecdotes from their lively backgrounds. These recollections in turn introduce timely placement of Lomax field recordings from gospel congregations, work groups, and so forth. Only a nasty cynic would discount all the talking as pure shucking and jiving, but even a blues neophyte wallowing in the charm of these voices might wind up skipping ahead on subsequent listens. While the reason for this is understandable, there are indeed great quotes in these discussions. Grim details are casually mentioned in a manner that sort of shames the many creators of grim, sordid films or fiction dealing with this period of American history. "If you were a good worker," someone recalls at one point, "You could kill anybody -- as long as it was Negro."

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