Jessie Mae Hemphill

Dare You to Do It Again

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Jessie Mae Hemphill suffered a stroke years ago and can no longer play guitar. That doesn't mean she can't gather up some of her friends and fellow musicians for one blues-based boogie tune after another. This two-disc set, which was also released in conjunction with a DVD, begins with the marching drums of "Fife & Drum Intro" that is part African tribal rhythm and part Scottish marching percussion. Her voice still has power, though, even when telling various stories with an inviting, down-home manner. "We're all here and God blessed us all to see another pretty beautiful day," she says to open up "Lay My Boogie Down." The low and slow-building tempo has Hemphill giving it her all despite not having the power in her voice she once did. It's the soul in the performance that far outweighs any rasp or weakness, backed by harmonica, drums and slide guitar. This wholesome style is what listeners should expect throughout on the deliberate, toe-tapping blues sway of "Nobody's Fault but Mine," and the ensuing "Old Time Religion" as Hemphill gives a hearty chuckle before it. Recorded in a barn, the party atmosphere is quite audible on the gospel-tinged "Saints Go Marching In," with its subtle bassline, backing vocals and handclaps. Perhaps the highlight of disc one is the percussion-heavy "Little Sally Walker." The slower, almost dirge-like "I Shall Not Be Moved" is also quite poignant despite Hemphill sounding out of harmony with the music at times. One good boogie though is the pleasing "This Little Light of Mine." Disc two has some longer songs including "God Is Good to Me" and the marathon "Treat Me Right," both of which Hemphill finds her footing in early with great results. Almost as good is Ruthie Foster's performance on "Runaway Soul." But the highlight is the toe-tapping Dylanesque "I'm Going Home" that ambles along nicely.

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