The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Thomas Fawcett, May 2, 2008, Music

The George Mitchell Collection: Volumes 1-45

(Fat Possum)

As a high school senior in 1962, George Mitchell began wandering Memphis back alleys and the rural roads of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in search of the blues. He found them all right, as evidenced by this 7-CD collection of recordings spanning 20 years and including a few familiar names like R.L. Burnside, Robert Nighthawk, and Big Joe Williams, as well as dozens of virtual unknowns. Don't call Mitchell a folklorist, however. In lively liner notes, Sam Sweet derides the field – John and Alan Lomax in particular – as "frosty, insular, uptight types." He contends that Mitchell "radiated warmth and eccentricity" and thus connected with bluesmen he recorded because of his generosity of spirit and a shared Southern culture. Purists offended by Burnside's rocking electro-infused collaborations with Jon Spencer and Kid Rock in the 1990s will no doubt prefer the four dirty Delta originals included here, the first-ever recordings of the Mississippi bluesman. Mitchell's recollections of the sessions are often hilarious and always honest. He remembers the one-string-bass- and kazoo-playing Dewey Corley, recorded 1967 in Memphis, as "a crotchety old motherfucker, very irritable." Cecil Barfield, also recorded that same year in Albany, Ga., provides four standout cuts highlighted by his hypnotizing if barely decipherable swampy howl. Excellent sides of Precious Bryant, Rosa Lee Hill, and Jessie Mae Hemphill are among the only known recordings of black female guitarists from the South in the 1960s. Percussion is generally limited to stomping of feet, and children playing and friendly chatter are par for the background on these intimate sessions. Clocking in at more than eight hours and 174 tracks, the collection might be overkill for the casual fan, but for the serious collector, The George Mitchell Collection comes available as 45 7-inches.


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