Good New Music
This Canadian-American venture was put together out of pocket and on a shoestring by Vancouver-based guitar wizard Steve Dawson, thanks to connections with the artists and a few investors. It was recorded mostly at three sessions in both countries, with Dawson handling the chores on his side of the border as well as playing slide guitar on several songs and contributing his own track.
The North Mississippi Allstars set the mood with “It’s Backfirin’ Now,” an easy rolling number featuring the Dickinson brothers’ late dad, Jim, on piano, recorded at their Zebra Ranch home studio. Cody and Luther with Chris Chew are a natural choice for a tribute to an obscure but influential 1930s string/blues band from their state.
John Hammond’s version of “Stop and Listen,” the tune that turned into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning,” is another standout. Three takes were recorded with members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing jug, kazoo, fiddle, bones, banjo, etc., but ultimately a solo version was used — and it shimmies and wobbles like a graceful drunk strolling down a slippery sidewalk.
“Bootlegger’s Blues” by Oh Susanna features an as-always cool and highly syncopated yet weird string arrangement by Van Dyke Parks — multitracked by a quartet to sound like a 12-piece — and excellent performances by Dawson on National tricone and Weissenborn.
“Sitting on Top of the World,” a song whose melody bears a striking resemblance to the title track, is the song the Sheiks were best known for. The Carolina Chocolate Drops do it string-band style: just banjo, guitar and fiddle, recorded on old microphones.
Geoff Muldaur’s cut, “The World Is Going Wrong,” is the only song not recorded specifically for this compilation. It comes from his “Texas Sheiks” project, which he already was working on when Dawson contacted him. The group includes Muldaur’s friend Stephen Bruton, who since has passed away from cancer; Cindy Cashdollar on slide; and Suzy Thompson on fiddle. It’s the first Mississippi Sheiks song Dawson ever heard.
No collection of old-time music would be complete without a song by Bob Brozman, whom Dawson snagged when they were playing a folk festival and took to a nearby studio to record “Somebody’s Gotta Help You.” It’s just Brozman singing and playing a baritone National with some overdubbed mini Kona guitar.
Overall, Dawson managed to pull off an excellent tribute to the criminally overlooked Sheiks, boasting a nice roundup of U.S. and Canadian artists including a generous serving of female vocalists. Much of it is modernized with electric slide, and a couple of songs are near-radical and radical reworkings (the title track and “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes for You,” respectively).