A Fine Fake French Festival (April 12th, 2018, Columbia, MO)

I stumbled across the above album in mint condition from a French vendor on Discogs last month and immediately ordered it. I knew the label, Black & Blue, was reputable, but beyond that–I’m strange this way –I wanted to be surprised. Jessie Mae Hemphill, a member of the famous fife-and-drumboogieing north Mississippi hill country family of that surname, is one of my very favorite blues artists. Hailing from Senatobia, armed with a trance-inducing vocal and guitar style, she made precious few records, and no live ones that I was aware of. Here’s one of the Tate County She-Wolf’s greatest tracks:

I didn’t really care about the other artists. The prospect of hearing Hemphill play to a familiar audience was enough. Plus, I’d heard other Mississippi festival recordings and they were great.

Yesterday the record arrived. Live it was not. Hemphill’s tracks? Studio recordings I already owned. I’d paid a modestly pretty penny for it, considering the shipping, so I was miffed. But I put it on anyway, of course, and was pleased to hear that the mix of Hemphill’s tracks seemed hotter than the ones I owned. Then came sings from drummer/vocalist Hezekiah Early and his band The House Rockers–if you call guitar and trombone a blues band, and I do. Charming isn’t a commonly used word for blues music, but believe me, it fits here and it’s not pejorative:

Then I flipped the was for four tracks by Son Thomas and another couple by Early’s unit. I was prepared to be underwhelmed by Thomas, accompanying himself on guitar and indulging in two unfamiliar covers, but…never underestimate a Mississippian! Just on tempo, tuning, and phrasing alone, he made the tracks his own, and cast a very haunting shadow across the record’s proceedings:

This album? I think I’ll keep it!

Short-shrift Division:

Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck: Djam Leelii – Played prior to the above record arriving, it seemed to summon it. There are moments when Maal’s and Seck’s picking slowed down so suddenly that I felt as if I’d been hitting the sizzurp. No surprise: House’s and Hemphill’s playing sounded as if they’d all drunk from the same bottle.

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