Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert Salutes Pioneering Band

Following the very successful CD “Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks”, Black Hen Music has just released a DVD, “The MIssissippi Sheiks Tribute Concert,” featuring some of the performers who appeared on the CD along with some who didn’t. Some performers from the album like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Madeline Peyroux, North Mississippi All Stars, Kelly Joe Phelps and Bruce Cockburn. Some performers like John Hammond and the Vancouver gospel trio, The Sojourners, perform different songs than on the original CD and Van Dyke Parks who arranged O Susanna’s performance on the CD is a performer here.

The concert was filmed over two nights at the Capillano Performing Arts Theatre in North Vancouver, British Columbia resulting in this nearly 80 minute DVD. Steve Dawson put together a house band for all the performances here which is in contrast to the original recording which used a house band for some sessions but not for all and one result is a sameness in feeling among some of the selections. The opening of the video is Dawson discussing how this happened followed by an opening scene when some autobiographical comments by the late Sam Chatmon are read to a string band accompaniment of “Sitting on Top of the World.” Performances vary by artist opening with O Susanna’s rendition of “Things About Comin’ My Way,” which did not sound completely convincing to these ears, and the very strong “Who’s Been Here,” by dave Alvin and Christy McWilson.” The Sojourners perform “Sweet Maggie,” a somewhat unsatisfactory rendition of a song similar to “Corrine Corrina.” Geoff Muldaur on banjo leads the band on a rendition of “Poor Boy,” that strikes me as owing as much to Gus Cannon as the Chatmon family but he sounds comfortable in the very busy accompaniment.

Dawson himself does a reflective country-flavored rendition of “Gulf Coast bay,” far remove from the old time string band. Of course that is one of Dawson’s aims, to take the songs and appreciate them as such, more so then the performances. Bob Brozman’s contributions as a sideman on several tracks as well as his rendition of “Church Bell Blues,” strikes me as stronger than his contribution to the CD. John Hammond adds harp here and a couple more performances. Robin Holcolb’s rendition of “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You,” comes off as overly melodramatic which Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart’s “Livin’ In a Strain,” is a fine rendition of a song that Kelly Joe Phelps handled on the CD. Colin James nice a nice job on the mid-tempo blues “Keep On Tryin’,” but one wishes for a bit sparer backing. John Hammond’s rendition of “Kind Treatment,” does not strike me as strong a vocal as his fine “Stop on Listen” on the disc, and its odd that one of what some who call the group’s signature tunes is not presented on this disc. Hammond’s performance is not bad, just a little mannered.

No doubt most will find these performances entertaining (and they are). However, with respect to the CD, I observed the relatively few performers of color and that is even more evident here. Even more important, the logistics of the concert including the use of a house band leads to the music here having less of the flavor of an African-American string band. I certainly do not dispute not having a collection of covers, and allowing performers to bring there own personality, but this DVD would have been more satisfying if several of the performances had a different spin to them.

This DVD was provided by the publicity firm for Black Hen Records.

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