Among a historic raft packed full of "legends", the Mississippi Sheiks are the real thing, formed in 1930 by three brothers (Sam, Lonnie, and Armenter Chatmon) and Walter Vinson. They put out almost 100 singles and became one of the most popular string bands of the time (and were probably screwed black and blue by their label, too, if tradition is any indication). They wrote an extremely popular song that has survived more than all the others and will continue to do so for decades to come, Sittin' on Top of the World. They were even invited by FDR to play for El Presidente.
This tribute gathers in a boatload of famed roots players and others—Bruce Cockburn, Bill Frisell, Kelly Joe Phelps, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Brozman, etc.—but catch Ndidi Onukwulu's sultry cover of the title tune and it's easy to see how the Sheiks' music has the power to push the best out of its acolytes. Then John Hammond trademarks the entire old vintage sound, creating a strong desire to take a pull at the jug while listening to his refrains, and you've never heard Sittin' done like The Carolina Chocolate Drops do it—that is, unless you're a purist along the lines of R. Crumb and searched long and hard for old rare recordings.
Frisell brings his expected modernizations to the instrumental That's It" alongside trombonist Steve Moore while Phelps deconstructs and refabricates Livin' in a Strain, managing to make it completely real while tossing in the subtlest twists and contusions. Del Rey sashays on stage to warble about the good times in a jazztime reading of We Both are Feeling Good Right Now that's as joyful for its celebration as it's portentous of less happy times perhaps to follow, rhetorically connoted from the past. Depend on The Sojourners to gospel things up in the bayou with He Calls that Religion, a tale of impending retribution on the preposterous among God's hucksters and jive artists. No matter where you go on this disc, even in Robin Holcomb's mutant Threepenny Opera-ish take on Blood in my Eye for You, however, you get a full demonstration of why the Sheiks were so taken to by the public 70 years ago and why they will remain inspirational for quite some time to come.