PHOENIX BLUES SOCIETY – BLUESBYTES
Between 1930 and 1935, The Mississippi Sheiks recorded nearly a hundred singles and made a definitive mark as one of the most popular string bands ever recorded. Consisting of singer/guitarist Walter Vinson, fiddle player Sam Chatmon, and Chatmon’s brothers Lonnie and Armenter (who also enjoyed solo success as singer/guitarist Bo Carter during the 30’s.), the Sheiks recorded many memorable tunes, but the most enduring of their recordings has to be “Sitting On Top of The World.” The timeless track was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame recently and has been recorded numerous times over the past 80 years by artists like B. B. King, Ray Charles, The Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson, Doc Watson, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan.
The group recorded for three different record companies, toured constantly from the Deep South up to New York and Chicago, and even performed for President Franklin Roosevelt. Part of the Sheiks’ appeal was that their sound appealed to both white country music fans and black blues fans. They also incorporated jazz, pop, and “hokum” (songs that featured clever sexual word play) into their music, so their appeal was very broad. The group broke up in 1935, though several of them were “rediscovered” in the 60’s and enjoyed some renewed success, but nothing as noteworthy as their earlier recordings.
Black Hen Music has produced a wonderful tribute to the Sheiks with Things About Comin’ My Way. Black Hen Music president Steve Dawson has been a fan of the group for a decade and has gathered a veritable who’s who of blues and roots musicians to capture the essence of The Mississippi Sheiks’ music.
There are seventeen tracks, featuring a highly diverse set of performers that demonstrate the wide range of the Sheiks’ appeal. There are blues artists present (The North Mississippi Allstars’ funky, disheveled take on the hokum tune, “It’s Backfirin’ Now” is a highlight, as is the always reliable John Hammond’s “Stop and Listen,” and Kelly Joe Phelps’ mournful “Livin’ In A Strain”), country (Oh Susanna’s “Bootlegger’s Blues,” Danny Barnes’ “Too Long,” and Black Hen president and disc producer Steve Dawson’s easy, loping cover of “Lonely One In This Town.”), and somewhere in between (“Ndidi Onukwulu’s soulful version of the title track, The Carolina Chocolate Drops’ authentic, yet fresh reproduction of “Sittin’ On Top of The World,” Jim Byrnes’ gritty, rootsy interpretation of “Jailbird Love Song,” and Madeleine Peyroux’s breathtakingly sultry reading of “Please Baby”).
The disc also features music from other artists including Bruce Cockburn (an exhilarating “Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down”), Bill Frisell (the instrumental, “That’s It”), Geoff Muldaur (leading the Texas Sheiks in the timely “The World Is Going Wrong”), Del Rey (the joyous “We Both Are Feeling Good Right Now”), Bob Brozman (who puts on a guitar clinic with “Somebody’s Gotta Help You”), Robin Holcomb (the dark “I’ve Got Blood In My Eyes For You”), and The Sojourners (the gospel standard “He Calls That Religion”).
Things About Comin’ My Way is an outstanding tribute disc that serves its purpose well. It’s a must-buy for fans of the roots music movement in the tradition of O Brother, Where Art Thou? It should also lead listeners to not only check out the music of the artists on the disc, but should also steer some fans to experience firsthand the music of The Mississippi Sheiks. – Graham Clarke