Mississippi Fred McDowell – (self titled) (Rounder, 1995)

Fred McDowell of Como, Missisippi was one of the great originals of modern blues music. After playing guitar and singing the blues and gospel music for friends and family for many years and developing a completely unique style, he was “discovered” in the late 1950’s and went on to have a successful late life recording career. He toured and influenced many young rock and blues musicians, notably Bonnie Raitt, whom he developed a close friendship with. This album is particularly interesting, as it is almost like a field recording, featuring McDowell playing for friends and neighbors in his house in Mississippi during the early 1960’s. The informal nature of the setting brings out some wonderful music, with McDowell playing some slashing guitar and beautiful slide work and his vocals are deep and intimate. He plays some of the standards that would come to define his music, like the torrid version of “Shake ‘em on Down” and the deeply rhythmic “I Rolled and I Tumbled,” which was his own take on the blues classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Also of particular interest is the retelling of the great African-American story “John Henry” and McDowell brings that great steel driving man to life like few before him. The song that would be most identified with McDowell, “Kokomo Blues” gets a fine and infectious treatment as well. Slower blues are also represented as well, with the beautiful and haunting “61 Highway” painting a picture of rural life and the lure of the leaving trunk. “Red Cross Store” was a topical blues about the poor treatment of African-Americans at the hands of those who claimed to be helping them. This is a wonderfully intimate and enjoyable disc, almost like being a fly on the wall during a small get together of friends and family. All of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music is well worth hearing, but if you are coming to him for the first time this is an excellent place to make his acquaintance.
Read the full review at Jazz and Blues Blogspot.