Music Reviews

Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt

Various Artists

Vanguard

Avalon Blues is a labor of love for singer-songwriter Peter Case, who brought a diverse but like-minded bunch of artists together to pay tribute to country bluesman Hurt, who recorded first in the 1920s and then saw a career renaissance during the folk revival of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

The collection includes talented pickers like Chris Smither and Peter Mulvey on the opening acoustic tour de force “Frankie and Albert” and John Hiatt on the charming and homespun “I’m Satisfied” that concludes the record. The stark rhythmic groove that Hurt was known for can be heard to good effect in the haunting drone of Canadian Bruce Cockburn’s 12-string guitar on the nostalgic “Avalon, My Home Town.” Case himself appears on the track “Monday Morning Blues” with Dave Alvin, and the duo manage to bring both of their own styles to Hurt’s work. Similarly, Steve Earle (with son Justin) brings his own vibe to the double entendre-laden “Candy Man” (“All I heard was Sister Johnson said/She always take a candy stick to bed”).

Veteran Hurt aficionado Bill Morrissey, who recorded an entire album of Hurt songs in 1999, brings his best growly blues voice to “Pay Day.” Taj Mahal’s take on the Louisiana-flavored “My Creole Belle” is an album highlight. And Beck surprisingly plays it straight on a version of “Stagolee” that reminds us he could have a promising blues career if he ever wanted to give up the irony-drenched, genre-bending pop music.

The women shine on this tribute record as well. Lucinda Williams, who has done more than a few songs with “angel” in the title during her career, is in fine voice on “Angels Laid Him Away.” And Gillian Welch again displays her fascinatingly hypnotic take on traditional music on the gauzy “Beulah Land.” But nothing quite prepares you for the eccentric performance by Case’s ex-wife Victoria Williams on “Since I’ve Laid My Burden Down.” Even those familiar with her unique style may be surprised by the breathless fervor she brings to the track.

Vanguard Records, 2700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Santa Monica, CA 90404; http://www.vanguardrecords.com


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