For those of you familiar with the hypnotic, bourdon style of guitar playing found in the Northern Mississippi hill country, the of names JR Kimbrough, Ranie Burnette, and Jessie Mae Hemphill run synonymous with those of Fred McDowell, Eli Green, and R. L. Burnside. Featured in twelve of the eighteen cuts, "Giants of Country Blues, Volume 3" showcases these three phenomenal northern Mississippi country blues giants playing their personalized brand of the blues. Also appearing on this compilation are Tommy West, who adds three songs, and Jacob Stuckey, from Bentonia, MS., who plays "I Love My Baby," in the style of fellow Bentonia native, Skip James. Joining them is Roosevelt Holts, who plays his version of "Big Road Blues," (a song written by his friend Tommy Johnson) and L. V. Conerly from Louisiana, who plays his most famous song, "Hard Headed Woman."
Hailing from perhaps the most legendary musical family of the Mississippi hill country, Jessie Mae Hemphill is the third generation of her family to record. In doing so, she carries on the tradition of her grandfather, the venerable Sid Hemphill, her Aunts Rosa Lee, and Sidney Lee, and her mother, Virgie Lee. (Recording for the Library of Congress in 1942 and 1959, Sid played the guitar, fiddle, mandolin, snare drum, bass drum, fife, quills, banjo, and the organ. He also led a string band for over 50 years and was mentor to most of the musicians in the area.) Jessie Mae plays five songs here on her electric National guitar which she received from her Aunt Sidney Lee and named after her Aunt Rosa Lee. (both of her aunts recorded for the Library of Congress and Rosa Lee also recorded for George Mitchell) Singing with her subtle and engaging melismatic quality, she has a strong yet mellow voice that envelops you and beckons you into her world. Recorded solo, this is classic Jessie Mae, the "She Wolf!"
Jr. Kimbrough stands alone. Possessing one of the most distinct and unique styles of the blues, he rewrote the book on how to experience the genre. The unconventional structure of his songs, the haunting and hypnotic guitar playing, and the unparalleled phrasing of his moving, pleading vocals, are captured here solo on three cuts and were recorded at his own juke joint near Holly Springs, Mississippi. He is accompanied on the Kimbrough standard, "All Night Long," by drummer Calvin Jackson and Daniel Burnside on bass.
Ranie Burnette is probably the least known of the big three on this CD but is none the less an important contributor. Snapping and popping his bass strings like the bluesmen of the 1930’s he demonstrates the blues precedent of the modern funky snap bass lines. A contemporary of Fred McDowell and mentor to R.L. Burnside, his droning guitar and vocals are classic Mississippi blues.
"Giants of Country Blues, Volume 3" was produced and recorded by Andrea and Hannes Folterbauer in September, 1991. (…with the exception of one cut recorded in 1981 by Ulrich Hahn and Hannes Folterbauer) All the cuts were recorded in the field and the CD has very good sound in spite of the conditions under which many field recordings are made. The mix is good and you can hear everything distinctly without anything getting buried.
The solo renditions found here give us an intimate look at several different styles of blues found around Mississippi and Louisiana. Any fan of the Northern Mississippi and Delta style of blues will want to pick up this CD. The inclusion of any ONE of the three sets from Hemphill, Kimbrough, or Burnette on a CD would make that CD highly desirable, but to have all three sets on one CD make "Giants of Country Blues, Volume 3" essential listening for the fan of acoustic and electric country blues.
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This review is copyright © 2000 by Stephen T Davidson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.