Listening Diary, Southern Journey, March 22, 2014


First leg of Southern journey to NOLA and back, spurred by reading of Greg Kot’s Staple Singers book, listened to Staples’ Vee Jay and Epic recordings, which are to today’s music (pick your genre) as Sophocles is to Neil Simon. You think I exaggerate? Listen to this.

‘Tween Cape Girardeau and Blytheville: Cosimo Matassa-engineered ’62 Atlantic recordings of New Orleans jazz bands frequently at Preservation Hall (Paul Barbarin, Punch Miller, Jim Robinson, The Pierces). Amazingly present recording (Cosimo liked to “crowd it” to excellent effect), fantastic musicianship and LISTENING SKILLS, subtle song selection. Example right hyar.

Just outside of Memphis, decided to try the OTHER END of jazz: septuagenarian free jazz veteran Roscoe Mitchell’s new duet album with Hugh Ragin and the amazing Tyshawn Sorey. It didn’t get far, but it inspired a discussion about what the free crowd really expect from its audience, and what to make of free records where the participants don’t listen to each other.

Some time spent with Todd Snider’s new rekkid, HARDWORKING AMERICANS. It’s really about hardworking American songwriters other than Todd, who sounds hoarse and cashed out. Faron Young’s “Blackland Farmer,” Will Kimbrough and Tommy Womack’s “I Don’t Have a Gun,” and BR549’s “Run a Mile” are the standouts, but Snider seems stuck.

Hitting Highway 55 South to Jackson, we switched to a “Country Blues Legends” folder on the ol’ iPod, with Geeshie Wiley, Robert Wilkins, Tommy McClellan, Victoria Spivey, and many more. Highlight was William Harris’ “Bullfrog Blues”: “Did you ever dream lucky/Wake up cold in hand?” Check it out yourself:

Finally, we wended our way down 51 out of Senatobia (after eating smoked sausage and pork BBQ at Coleman’s BBQ) and, halfway to our destination of Como, MS, pulled a right down a country road, then a left up another until we reached the Hammond Hill Baptist Church cemetery (see above photo), the resting place of Mississippi Fred McDowell, to north Mississippi hill country blues what Robert Johnson is to Delta blues, and covered by the Rolling Stones on STICKY FINGERS. He’s buried next to his wife, but some oblivious fuckers had recently sat by his graveside and made a pile of cigarette butts and trash on her mound. We hadn’t thought to get a blue rose for Fred, so we cleaned up Ester’s grave. A pretty moving experience, standing there on a quiet hill of interred corpses in the obscured Mississippi woods. Afterwards, we drove three miles down the road to Como, Mississippi, entering the town with Napoleon Strickland’s fife and drums powering us. Who is Napoleon Strickland? Well, he’s got a sign on Main Street in Como!

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