Origine du Groupe : North America
Style : Blues , Country
Sortie : 2011
By Amanda Petrusich from http://pitchfork.com
In September 1959, Fred McDowell-- an overalls-wearing, stoop-shouldered, Panola County cotton farmer-- picked up an old acoustic guitar and wandered over to his neighbor Lonnie Young's house. Word had spread that the folklorist Alan Lomax (traveling with the English singer Shirley Collins and a 26-pound, two-track reel-to-reel tape machine) was hunting local artists to record for Atlantic Records. McDowell, who was born around 1904 in Rossville, Tennessee, had grown up imitating the still-nascent sound of the Delta blues, using an old pocketknife (and then a whittled-down bovine rib bone, and finally the squat neck of a Gibson's gin bottle) as a rudimentary slide. By the time McDowell, then 55, cornered Lomax on Young's porch, his scope (and his skill) had broadened, and the sound he made-- a mesmerizing, groove-based blues that both nodded to and defied his Delta predecessors-- instantly captivated Lomax, and eventually the world.
Fred McDowell: The Alan Lomax Recordings (available as a download through Global Jukebox, the Alan Lomax Archive's digital imprint, and on LP via Mississippi Records) opens with Bukka White's "Shake 'Em on Down", a song that McDowell appears to enjoy playing more than he enjoys breathing or eating or maybe doing anything else at all. Following Lomax's prompt-- "1, 2, 3, go," he commands in his high, nasal voice-- McDowell locks into a heavy, propulsive groove, while his sister, Fanny Davis, blows into a homemade kazoo that Lomax, in The Land Where the Blues Began, described as "a fine-toothed comb wrapped in toilet paper" (it sure is loud). "Shake 'Em on Down" is a bracing introduction to the cadence of North Mississippi Hill Country blues: McDowell's guitar is disorienting and relentless, so rhythmic and mind-bending that if you were to, say, listen to it while driving down a dark road in the rain, you'd likely veer off into a ditch (and then feel relieved). Davis' kazooing-- itself vaguely lawless-- provides a welcome counterpoint (it's like staring at a fixed point on the horizon while trying not to vomit over the side of a boat), while Miles Pratcher (of the excellent local square dance band the Pratcher Brothers) assaults a second guitar. The result is mystifying and spectacular.
McDowell's rendition of "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" (a deeply fucked-up-- if not particularly uncommon-- ode to little girls, made famous, first, by Sonny Boy Williamson, and then again by the Grateful Dead) is more of a showcase for his nimble guitar work than any rogue sexual proclivities. McDowell's muted delivery of the lyrics ("Good mornin' 'lil school girl/ Can I go home, can I go home with you?/ Tell your mama and your papa/ Lord, I'm a little school boy, too") is merciful; he's politely disinterested, if not fully disengaged. McDowell reserves his howls of longing for slightly less uncouth fare, like "Worried Mind Blues", an unrequited love song he imbues with legitimate anguish ("You make me weak and you make me moan," he groans, sounding broken). Mostly, though, the rhythm is the thing: With his twangy, piercing strums, McDowell establishes himself as a singular player, infinitely more interested in the transcendental than the germane. Somehow, he manages to make the acoustic guitar-- that purveyor of sweet lullabies!-- sound menacing, not familiar.
After McDowell was featured on one of Lomax's Sounds of the South compilations, he enjoyed considerable acclaim outside of north Mississippi (the timing was right with the folk revival of the 1960s gathering steam) and more than a dozen solo LPs, although none approaches the looseness of his first session for Lomax. In 1971, the Rolling Stones covered McDowell's "You Got to Move" for Sticky Fingers; it's a sluggish and deliberate rendition, and Jagger's approximation of McDowell's worn, scratchy voice feels both flat and affected. A year later, McDowell died of stomach cancer; his body, swaddled in a silver lamé suit (a gift from the Stones), is buried at the Hammond Hill Baptist Church, near Como, Miss. Supposedly, Bonnie Raitt-- a guitar student of McDowell's-- paid for a new headstone after the original misspelled his name.
It's awfully easy to approach archival releases-- and field recordings, especially-- with a detached reverence, at least in part because they were rendered spontaneously on front porches and in backyards, miles from the formal, self-conscious fussing of the recording studio. Consequently, any and all fidelity issues tend to be heard as sepia-toned, "atmospheric" snafus (oh, crickets!); judgment is clouded by access, and we feel lucky-- embarrassed, even-- to be privy to these odd little moments at all. Accordingly, what's most remarkable about The Alan Lomax Recordings is its spectacular re-mastering job (per the Portland-based engineer Timothy Stollenwerk); now, it's possible to divorce these songs from their contexts long enough to be properly flabbergasted by McDowell's hypnotic, eager performance (although, should you get curious, the collection is also beautifully annotated by Arhoolie Records' Adam Machado and the Lomax Archive's Nathan Salsburg). None of these tracks was previously unreleased (all have appeared, in one form or another, on various compilations, many long out of print), but The Alan Lomax Recordings still feels revelatory-- and for his part, McDowell still sounds spectacularly alive.
01. Shake 'em On Down (2:45)
02. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (2:58)
03. Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning (3:11)
04. Fred McDowell's Blues (4:14)
05. Woke Up This Morning With My Mind On Jesus (3:18)
06. Drop Down Mama (2:53)
07. Going Down To The River (5:04)
08. Wished I Was In Heaven Sitting Down (2:11)
09. When The Train Comes Along (2:52)
10. When You Get Home Please Write Me A Few Of Your Lines (3:25)
11. Worried Mind Blues (3:36)
12. Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning (Instrumental Reprise) (0:34)