Friday, February 6, 2009

February 6: Mississippi Fred McDowell, "Live At The Mayfair Hotel"

Artist: Mississippi Fred McDowell
Album: Live At The Mayfair Hotel
Year: 1995
Label: Infinite Zero/Onyx Classix

Recorded live at London's Mayfair Hotel in 1969, Live At The Mayfair Hotel brilliantly captures one of the original Delta Bluesmen, Mississippi Fred McDowell, in his element. The record is a combination of two British LP's, and this release gives listeners the entire show on one disc. As Fred says himself, "I do not play no rock and roll, I play just old country blues and I hope you like it...and if you don't like it, I'm gonna play it anyhow..."

While he may not be as well known as some of his contemporaries, artists ranging from Bonnie Raitt to the Rolling Stones have recorded covers of his songs. Live At The Mayfair Hotel is as straightforward a blues record as one can find; simply a man, a mic, and a guitar. There is no drummer, just Fred's foot stomping away on the floor. This bare-bones instrumentation creates a fantastic mood on the record and shows the best way to hear and perform the blues; honest and intimate.

What separates Mississippi Fred McDowell from other bluesmen is the emotion and feeling he puts behind both his singing as well as his playing. Though Live At The Mayfair Hotel captures Mississippi Fred at nearly 70 years old (he passed away 3 years after the recording), he sings with the same pain and conviction that he did when the songs were originally penned. The album goes from "great" to "essential" when legendary blues singer JoAnn Kelly joins Fred on stage for an absolutely mesmerizing performance of the traditional slave-spiritual, "When I Lay My Burden Down."

Throughout the record, it's clear that Mississippi Fred is having a great time performing, and the crowd is perfect. By perfect, I mean they are silent while the master is playing. The crowd also helps in that none of them want Fred to leave the stage, cheering for encore after encore. Every twang and foot tap comes through on the album and it helps to create a wonderful mood for the listener. From the slow, lulling blues, to the quicker, boogie blues, Live At The Mayfair Hotel is unquestionably a blues classic.

Live At The Mayfair Hotel is honest and organic in every sense of the word. Mississippi Fred McDowell's vocals and stage presence are magnificent and the fact that it's live, and therefore has no "studio polish," makes the recording all the more authentic in its sound. To put it simply, Live At The Mayfair is everything a blues record should be.

Standout tracks: "61 Highway," "When I Lay My Burden Down," and "Shake 'Em On Down."

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