Folk Roots/ Folk Branches
One of the nice things about being my age is that as a young folkie, I had opportunities to see, in some cases meet, and, in a few cases, even work with, some of the legendary first generation recording artists whose music so influenced everything that came after. One of the artists I got to work with in 1974 as an area co-ordinator (stage manager) at the Mariposa Folk Festival was Sam Chatman, who I believe was about 77 or 78 years old at the time.
Back in the 1920s and ‘30s –- in addition to being a solo blues artist –- Sam often performed and recorded as a member of the Mississippi Sheiks, one of the great African-American string bands. Their biggest hit was “Sitting On Top of the World,” a song that has since become a standard in blues, bluegrass, western swing, folk and even rock repertoires. Sam had one of the most-lined faces I’ve ever seen, but there was so much musical history etched inside each and every one of those lines.
When I met Sam Chatman, he was 35 or 40 years removed from the heyday of the Mississippi Sheiks. And, now, 35 years after that, comes this excellent tribute featuring various artists interpreting 17 of their songs in their own individualistic ways.
I like almost all of these interpretations but some of my favourite tracks include a cool version of “Honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down” by Bruce Cockburn that begins with some great fingerpicking blues patterns and builds into a Preservation Hall-style arrangement highlighted by William Carn’s trombone; Del Rey’s take on “We Are Both Feeling Good Right Now,” featuring her goodtime vocals and her ragtime guitar playing interacting with a choir of three clarinets; an arrangement of “The World is Going Wrong,” by Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks that recalls Geoff’s days in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band; and a faithful version of “Sitting On Top of the World,” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a great trio at the forefront of the revival in African American stringband music.
Other highlights include tracks by Madeleine Peyroux, John Hammond, the Sojourners, Kelly Joe Phelps and producer Steve Dawson.