Songs of Mississippi John Hurt
Rounder Records Corp.
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
If I didn't know the title of this CD ahead of time, I would have been hard pressed to identify the first song as anything but a Bill Morrissey original. The influence that Mississippi John Hurt has had on Morrissey is abundantly clear. In the liner notes, Morrissey comments that his own musical outlook and right-hand work on guitar were heavily influenced by, if not purely a result of, listening to Hurt.
The fifteen songs on this album are a little simpler in construction and more lyrically repetitive than much of Morrissey's own material; they lack the depth and storytelling that many have come to admire about Morrissey. It's not that the Hurt songs are bad, it's just that, in the context presented here, they don't have the same impact that Morrissey's originals do. As a result, many listeners may walk away from that album feeling a little underwhelmed. From Bill Morrissey's perspective, however, this is a labor of love, wherein he hopes to expose more people to the music of an artist who has meant so much to him.
Singer/songwriter Peter Keane accompanies Morrissey on 11 of the 15 songs. It's no surprise that Keane's presence is this prominent because he, too, is a Hurt devotee, having recorded Hurt's Hop-Joint and Big Leg Blues on an album co-produced by Morrissey, The Goodnight Blues. Keane's guitar fills out Morrissey's rhythm quite nicely in most songs and, in some, is quite expressive. His fingerpicking solo in Beulah Land and slide work in Monday Morning Blues are prime examples.
Morrissey also states in the liner notes that "one of the strengths of John Hurt's songs is that they can and have been done in a variety of styles --- from solo to jug band, blues bands, country band, old-timey, bluegrass, whatever suits your fancy. We've tried to do a little of that here." Indeed, Morrissey slips from the saxophone and piano-based blues of Avalon Blues, to the horn-based swing of "Big Leg Blues" and from the gospel blues of "Louis Collins" to the soft acoustic numbers Hey, Honey, Right Away and Good Morning, Miss Carrie.
One of the more rocking numbers is Monday Morning Blues, a blues shuffle featuring the tight interplay of the full band: Keane on slide guitar, David Torkanowsky on piano, Johnny Vidacovich on drums, and James Singleton on acoustic bass. Cormac McCarthy also plays an appreciable role on this album, bringing his harmonica talents to three songs (as well as making what appears to be an uncited appearance on Funky Butt).
You get the feeling throughout Songs of Mississippi John Hurt that much of the material is explored on Morrissey's previous albums; Big Leg Ida" on You'll Never Get to Heaven sounds similar in substance and performance to Big Leg Blues; the arrangement of Blues in the Morning" on Night Train sounds like Hey, Honey, Right Away. The essence of Hurt may be so ingrained in Morrissey that the listener may be left wondering where Bill Morrissey starts and John Hurt ends.
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Edited by Kerry Bernard (firstname.lastname@example.org)