Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
My first impression is this: the recording is absolutely pristine. It is leaving me in disbelief that it is 52 years old! The vocals and guitar playing is absolutely crystal clear. No pops, no hissing, no audio loss, no funny stuff. It really sounds as if it was recorded yesterday.
Most people know the name, but maybe not the story. So here goes. John Smith Hurt was born on March 3, 1892, most likely. Hurt was born in Teoc, Carroll County, Mississippi and raised in Avalon, Mississippi. He worked as a share cropper and taught himself how to play guitar at the age of nine. He made recordings in 1928 and 1929, but they were commercially unsuccessful so Hurt went back to what he knew, share cropping.
Hurt had been out of the music business for 23 years when two of his songs, Frankie and Albert and Spike Driver Blues were included on the 1952 album: The Anthology of American Folk Music. He was discovered by Tom Hoskins (musical archivist), who located Hurt in Avalon, Mississippi. Due to the medium of television, Hurt was known to a wide audience and received a good level of fame before his death in 1966.
Hurt has been covered by a who’s who of musicians including Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Doc Watson, Taj Mahal, and Beck, just to name a handful. He is one of the godfathers and deities of delta blues. Hurt’s smooth vocals and finger picking rivals anyone, living or deceased.
There is already an album out called The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt from this same concert. This album is far superior to the Best Of album in oh so many ways. For one, the aforementioned sound quality. This collection also contains more music.
This is not just an amazing album, but an historical document of one of America’s greatest musical treasures. As I listen, I am astounded at Hurt’s vocal quality and guitar playing prowess. His picking style is still coveted by many many country and bluegrass artists. If you want to know how country music evolved and developed, look no further. Mississippi John Hurt is your man. He wasn’t the only influence, but he has a big piece of the pie.
Listen (samples only) and buy Mississippi John Hurt Live At Oberlin College