Propelled by the enormous commercial success of their second 78-rpm release in 1930, the stoic "Sitting on Top of the World," acoustic string band brothers Lonnie, Sam and Armenter Chatmon, along with guitarist/singer Walter Vinson, recorded steadily for the next five years - waxing a large body of original blues, hokum songs, square dance hollers and topical commentaries that would eventually define the Sheiks as one of the most popular and accomplished string bands ever. So it's certainly time for a tribute project, and we're all in luck, because Black Hen's president (and producer and performer here) Steve Dawson has certainly rounded up a roomful of blues and roots heavyweights, and cajoled them into cutting all-new, intuitive version of one of their Sheiks favorites.
In addition to contributions from John Hammond (a Howlin' Wolf-affected redo of their fetching "Stop and Listen'), fingerpicking master Bruce Cockburn (with an elated, trombone-laced interpretation of "honey Babe Let the Deal Go Down') and sixx-string banjo maven Geoff Muldaur, with fiddler Suzy Thompson and late guitarist Stephen Bruton in tow on the Sheiks' Depression-era classic "The World is Going Wrong," the visionary Dawson also includes a stirring rendition of the tragic "Bootlegger's Blues' from Oh Susanna, which features an ornate string arrangement by native Mississippian and elusive pop icon Van Dyke Parks.
Other in the vein gems are provided by Robin Holcomb, the Sojourners (on that preacher-knocking "He Calls that Religion"), Del Rey (who actually learned to play the blues from Sam Chatmon), Kelly JOe Phelps, Bob Brozman (an emotive "Somebody's Gotta Help You"), Madeleine Peyroux, the North Mississippi Allstars, Ndidi Onukwulu, the Carolina Chocolate Drops (who breathe new life into the oft-recorded title song), Danny Barnes, Jim Byrnes and Bill Frisell. Recommended.