Blues In Britain
The Mississippi Sheiks were an iconic “string band” whose popularity during the mid 20s to mid 30s resulted in a plethora of fine recordings for Paramount, Okeh and Bluebird – many of which remain popular with blues artists today – one of which, “Sitting On Top Of The World”, has been recorded by artists as diverse as Howlin’ Wolf, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Cream.
This tribute concert was recorded live, over two nights, at Capilano University, in Vancouver, in March 2010 – instigated by guitarist Steve Dawson and featuring 12 respected, and well-known, artists plus a house-band comprising Dawson (guitar, pedal steel banjo), Matt Chamberlain (drums), Keith Lowe (bass), Wayne Horvitz (organ, piano, pump organ, Wurlitzer) and Daniel Lapp (fiddle, trumpet, mandolin, tuba). The instrumental line-up may seem confusing, as most people would be expecting a tribute concert to feature just the “string-band” instruments that made the Sheiks so popular – however, it is important to remember that the Sheiks weren’t a “blues” band per se, but a band that played the popular music of the day, of which blues was just one element. So, Dawson has taken this concept and not just replicated the chosen songs, but interpreted them with a modern twist that will appeal to younger, and/or new converts to the blues who are not familiar with the Sheiks music.
The DVD opens with interviews with several of the performers, backstage and rehearsal footage before moving into the concert itself – all of the performances being nothing less than exemplary, so I will have to confine myself to my particular favourites – with this being no slight on any of the others.
The Sojourners’ “Sweet Maggie” is a real delight – a swinging slab of gospel infused soul, or should that be soul infused gospel, replete with lap-steel, accordion and organ … trumpet adding a real Dixie feel. John Hammond – who lays down some superb harmonica on Jim Byrnes’ hilarious “Tell Me What The Cats Are Fighting About” – delivers a wistful “Kind Treatment” featuring acoustic guitar and rack harp, organ adding West Coast overtones to Hammond’s traditional approach. Dave Alvin and Christy McWilson’s “Who’s Been Here” has an old-timey feel enhanced by Bob Brozman’s eccentric playing – whilst Brozman’s own “Church Bell Blues” is both an aural and visual delight thanks to his animated playing and “theatrical” vocals.
I also loved Alvin Youngblood Hart’s hollered “Livin’ In A Strain”, Colin James’ plaintive “Keep On Tryin’” and Geoff Muldaur’s wistful “Poor Boy”, played on banjo with fiddle backing. Other fine tracks feature Steve Dawson, Van Dyke Parks, Oh Susanna (loved her vocals), Robin Holcomb and a wonderful ensemble rendition of the classic “Sitting On Top of The World”.