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Mississippi John Hurt: Avalon Blues (Columbia/Legacy CK 64986)


The repetitively pulsed guitar, surely ornamented/counterposed by descending/alternating bass lines, amidst delicate treble filligrees, draws you in, inexorably... And that voice, a gently-insinuating melodic croak - for want of any better description - which seems to embody an older, much slower, rural world that has past. The world will never give us another such...a songster homebody whose gentleness touched everyone who ever met him and, indeed, anyone who has ever heard his music...and, so, we should remember to treasure what we have left, now the man has gone...

And, while he never cut a bad record in his life, this set - his complete 1928 recordings - is his finest...and, well-recorded, what’s more, unlike much of the finest 1920s music. The jewel in the crown, undoubtedly, is the opener here - “Frankie”, one of the earliest recorded versions of the ballad “Frankie & Albert” (Johnnie, to be sure, was merely a later name change). And, in its astounding virtuosity, flawlessly interweaving multiple lines w/propulsive power, it clearly influenced John Fahey’s work, as he himself freely admitted.

But, as this should well suggest, Hurt is no typical Mississippi bluesman. In fact and, contra this package, he’s actually no “bluesman” at all...albeit he does play some blues. For, before blues was invented, at the beginning of the 20th Century, skilled musicians prided themselves on their versatility, and whilst they played many ballads - such as “Frankie & Albert” & “John Henry” - that exerted a formative influence on blues, as it developed, they were songsters, rather than bluesman...and John Hurt was undoubtedly one of their number...

However, he was rare in that his was primarily a domestic music for, unlike most, he did not travel, and made his living as a farmer rather than as a musician. And, it is this which allowed him to develop a softer, more intricate (and intimate) style, since he did not have to project over the raucous noise of the dance. There may have been others, similarly gifted, who also shunned the dangerous life on the roads & developed their music in a comparable fashion...but, if so, they did not survive to be “re-discovered” in the sixties, and we can only guess how they might have played.

For Hurt was a unique artist, a technically-gifted songster w/a marvellously winning, yet fragile, voice, and a guitar style that has no close kinship to any other...albeit it has since spawned countless descendents.

Buy it...and, once you’ve fallen in love w/it, then (please) play it for your grandparents...and they will love it too. Gentle, accessible music is rarely this great...




John Henry Calvinist