Maple Blues Magazine
Black Hen’s Steve Dawson has undertaken an ambitious and hugely successful project that has as its sub-title “A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks”. This entertaining string band had a varying lineup but usually included Sam Chatmon, Walter Vinson, fiddler Lonnie Chatmon & third brother Bo. They recorded in the early thirties and their 78’s have remained influential, especially among performers, although only “Sitting On Top Of The World” can be called a blues standard. Dawson’s idea was to ask a variety of performers to participate by choosing & arranging the song of their choice. Seventeen are here and the stellar lineup is an indication of how well the proposal was received. Bruce Cockburn, The North Mississippi Allstars, John Hammond, Madeleine Peyroux, Kelly Joe Phelps, Bill Frisell, The Sojourners, Jim Byrnes and more are here and all with well thought-out and committed performances. The Sheiks were not a blues band – they performed whatever songs their audiences asked for, white or black. The arrangements here stretch those loose boundaries even more, making for a uniquely varied listening experience. Having said that, the CD begins with three straightforward blues, by the Allstars, a welcome one from Ndidi Onukwulu and of course John Hammond. Cockburn’s fine version of “Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down” has a trombone joining the band. Oh Susanna uses a string quartet arranged by Van Dyke Parks. Guitarist Del Rey studied with Sam Chatmon and her version of “We Both Are Feeling Good Right Now” uses two clarinets. The Sojourners chose “He Calls That Religion” and those gospel harmonies add a little twist to the tale of a philandering preacher. It is little wonder that this CD has been nominated for Acoustic Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis.