Various Artists – 50 Years of Como MS Blues
Wolf Records International
Como is a small town of about 1,300 people in Panola County, Mississippi. It borders on the Mississippi Delta in the northern part of the state, and is the proverbial “hill country” which has given rise to so much interesting blues music. Como is one of only a few places on the Mississippi Blues Trail with three Blues Trail Markers. They honor Mississippi Fred McDowell, Napolian Strickland, and Otha Turner and line their main street. This album highlights 50 years of music from this extraordinary place and it’s distinctive hill country sound.
What we have here are a half dozen tracks by the legendary Jessie Mae Hemphill, four Fred McDowell cuts, five Ranie Burnette tunes, three R.L. Boyce cuts, two Eli Green songs on two of the cuts with McDowell, and an Othar Turner song. The CD is produced by the Austrian Label Wolf Records. This collection highlights the rich heritage of music from sleepy little Como.
Mississippi Fred McDowell is by far the best known of Como’s musicians. Born in Tennessee, McDowell was a major influence on so many of his contemporaries and musicians who were his juniors. The Rolling Stones cover of, “You Gotta Move” made McDowell a lot of money prior to his passing.
Jessie Mae Hemphill is a native of the area and even made recordings in her later years. The songs featured here were recorded in 1991 by Wolf. A stroke in 1993 kept her from playing her guitar, but she was up for vocals and tambourine and released a double album in 2004, about two years before her passing. One of her most note worthy recordings is “She Wolf,” from 1981.
Eli Green only has these two recordings to his name because of a tape recorder’s batteries running out. These two cuts with McDowell (“Brooks Run Into The Ocean” and “Bull Dog Blues” show us the influence Charlie Patton and Son House had on him and how he influenced the likes of Junior Kimbrough and Fred McDowell.
R.L. Boyce is the last surviving Como. He was nominated for the Traditional Blues Grammy in 2018. His uncle is Othar Turner and he played in his and Hemphills fife and drum bands. His first CD was released in 2007 with Cedric Burnside and Calvin Jackson. The recordings here were done in 2017 by Wolf Records, “Child of God” and Big Joe William’s “Baby Please Don’t Go.”
The 1991 sessions by Wolf also included Ranie Burnette. He played in juke joints for many years and was finally recorded in the early 1980’s. He and R.L Burnside played a lot together as did he and harpist Johnny Woods. His sound is pure hill country.
Othar “Otha” Turner is a famed bluesman first recorded in the 1960s. He garnered two Blues Music Award nominations in his lifetime. Noted for his early fife and drum band work, Turner plays guitar in a distinctively primal manner and his “Rooster Blues” is a cool introduction to the man.
This CD, produced by Hannes Folterbauer and Wolf Records, is a great introduction for listeners to get an idea of where the blues came from. The genre coalesced from the music of the plantations from Emancipation to the turn of the century. This music is the result of what happened in that period in the upper Mississippi Delta where the hill country musicians gave rise to a version of the blues that is unique and all their own. If you get bitten by the bug of this music, check out Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and other works by the great hill country musicians.