Brownie McGhee

The Last Great Blues Hero

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These dozen songs were recorded in a six-hour session on May 6, 1995. Intended to promote a tour of Australia and New Zealand, it ended up being Brownie McGhee's last recording date. Already ill with stomach cancer, the tour never took place, and the singer died the following year. Not issued until 2000, this turns out to be a surprisingly vital performance from a man nearly 80 years old who may not have been in the best health. That's the good news. On the other hand, it offers no surprises, as McGhee reprises familiar folk-blues crossover standards like "John Henry," "Rock Island Line," "Pick a Bale of Cotton," "Key to the Highway," "Walk On," and a song from his brother, Sticks McGhee, "Drinking Wine." The band accompaniment is (unlike as is often the case on such occasions) appropriately low-key and sympathetic, adding some additional harmonica and guitar, but not rocking out too hard. A pleasantly likable session, but not exciting or essential, Last Great Blues Hero finds McGhee sounding about the same as he'd always sounded for the last several decades of his life. Even if you're a devoted McGhee fan, you'll probably concede that more important versions of most of these tunes exist elsewhere, whether by McGhee or other singers; indeed, the liner notes observe that the newest song here, "Rainy Day," was first recorded in 1961.

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