Monday, July 15, 2013

Mississippi John Hurt – Avalon Blues – The Complete 1928 Okeh Sessions

Mississippi John Hurt is more of a folk singer/guitarist than a blues man, though, of course, there is certainly some cross over. But his self-taught, complex, finger-picking style (he claims to be influenced by no one in particular) has become the basis for many, if not all, folk singers from the 50’s and 60’s.

Born in 1892, Hurt recorded the 13 tunes included on this disc in 1928 for Okeh, at the recommendation of a couple of white country musicians the label had recorded in the area. He initially cut 8 sides, two of which (“Frankie” – a version of the traditional “Frankie & Johnnie” – and “Nobody’s Dirty Business) were released and sold well enough for a second session that year. These included his own “Avalon Blues”, referencing his home territory, which gave blues researchers the clue to find the man during the folk/blues resurgence.

The liner notes for this CD (there is a nice booklet included with notes from a 1965 Down Beat article) describe his playing as “three-finger picking…highly syncopated with a smooth, clear, rolling tones that asserts mastery and finesse.” That says it better than I could! His voice is a bit rougher than his playing, but still elegant and versatile and fitting for his story-telling songs.

The material includes originals and traditional tunes, from the afore-mentioned numbers to “Stack O’Lee”, “Candy Man Blues”, to the religious “Blessed be the Name” and “Praying on the Old Camp Ground” to ones that are closer to what we think of as blues, “Blue Harvest Blues” and “Spike Driver Blues”.

Don’t expect the usual Mississippi Delta blues from this man – as I said, this is more folk than blues – but for fine finger-picking, acoustic guitar playing, this is one to pick up!