Depression-Era Country Blues
The Mississippi Sheiks were a popular acoustic country string band who recorded 70 songs during the early part of the Great Depression. The group’s best known song, the surreal blues tune “Sitting On Top of the World”, has been covered by everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Chet Atkins to Bob Dylan to Cream to Ray Charles to the Grateful Dead to Doc Watson and to Jack White. This tribute CD features the Carolina Chocolate Drops playing it straight and simple, which is the approach many of the artists take to the Sheiks’ material. The reverence that musicians like John Hammond, Kelly Joe Phelps, and other blues notables bring to the songs is a doubled-edged sword: It allows the words and music to be clearly heard, but it also makes the music somewhat sterile—sort of like looking at a book while wearing latex gloves, being careful not to smudge the pages. The more down-and-dirty approaches, taken by jazzbos like Geoff Muldaur, Madeleine Peyroux, work better at conveying the Mississippi Sheiks’ spirit; however, the gospel group the Sojourners steal the show with the band’s sly take on religious hypocrisy, “He Calls That Religion”. Taken as a whole, the disc provides an enticing introduction into this now forgotten band’s music.