Jessie Mae Hemphill

Get Right Blues

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Until a stroke sidelined her in 1993, Jessie Mae Hemphill may well have been the most accomplished and versatile of the North Mississippi folk-blues musicians who emerged in the early 1980s with a stripped down, primal version of jook blues that was (and is) at stylistic odds with most of the contemporary blues scene (not that Hemphill and company had suddenly started playing this way, just that the rest of the world finally caught up with it). Hemphill, whose grandfather was the legendary Sid Hemphill who recorded some pretty wild and wooly fife and drum-styled classics for Alan Lomax in 1942 and 1959, has a hands-on understanding of the various folk forms of her native hill country, and her soulful, vibrant music is a thing apart. Assembled by folklorist Dr. David Evans, Get Right Blues collects 15 previously unreleased recordings cut by Hemphill in 1979, 1984 and 1985, and the range of blues and spirituals presented here is impressive and inspiring. Part boogie, part folk-gospel revival, part history lesson, this collection doesn't contain a single lame track, and it's amazing that none of these have been released before, since everything here is a stunner. From the ramshackle "Streamline Train" (Hemphill's version of "Mystery Train") that opens the disc through a pair of raw, atmospheric diddley bow pieces ("Little Rooster Reel," "Get Right, Church") and a hushed solo take on Memphis Minnie's "Honey Bee," Hemphill brings a ragged, perfect sense of urgency and soul to everything she touches. Even now, unable to play guitar because of her stroke, Jessie Mae Hemphill can still stun a crowd with just her voice and a foot tambourine. She is indeed a national treasure, and Get Right Blues makes a wonderful introduction to this amazing musician.

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