Mississippi John Hurt
The Best of Mississippi John Hurt / Live
First Appeared at The Music Box, August 2002, Volume 9, #8
Written by John Metzger
Mississippi John Hurtís career suddenly took off when his music was rediscovered during the folk revival of the 1960s. It didnít matter much that he hadnít set foot in a recording studio since 1928. He just picked up his guitar and hit the road, performing at both the 1963 and 1964 Newport Folk Festivals before signing with the Vanguard label. The following year, his definitive album (The Best of Mississippi John Hurt) was released; it contained a complete concert recording from a performance at Oberlin College.
Hurt died in 1966, and as the music world turned towards raging guitars and mind-bending psychedelia, his songs were once again forgotten save for a handful of musicians. It was here that his influence lived on in the music of Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Earle, and Alvin Youngblood Hart.
Cut to 2001 when the Vanguard label released a compilation of Hurtís songs (Avalon Blues) as performed by contemporary folk, rock, and blues artists such as Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Steve Earle, and Ben Harper. And this year, The Best of Mississippi John Hurt has been remastered and re-released under a new title ó the simple, yet eloquent Live ó with three bonus tracks taken from his 1965 Newport Folk Festival performance. Manufactured hype? Perhaps. But it couldnít happen to a better album, which is deserving of a greater audience.
Hurtís style is utterly unique and is based on a crafty fingerpicking technique that at first appears simple. Delve a little deeper, however, and youíll find that his gentle rhythm is actually a sweet, complex brew that falls more along the lines of Elizabeth Cotton than his Delta blues brethren. Indeed, Hurtís all-encompassing folk-blues catalog is hard to beat. Be it the gospel I Shall Not Be Moved, the innuendo-laden Candyman, the murderous Stagolee, or his laid-back rendition of C.C. Rider, Hurt delivers each with the tranquil beauty of a man at peace with himself, able to absorb the many aspects of the world and relay it all back in song. No wonder itís one of the most influential folk recordings ever to be released.
The Best of Mississippi John Hurt/Live is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box