Just when you think you’ve heard every way there is to play a guitar, every possible groove on the drums, you need to head to Mississippi. Or more conveniently, get Mississippi to come to you, which we managed last night when a contingent of musicians from that state’s Hill Country visited the Music City Roots stage. Sure enough, there were revelations, not to mention incantations and excitations.
We got things shaking with Afrissippi, a four-piece band that paired the nylon string guitar and Senegalese picking styles of founder Guelel Kumba and the righteous red and white hot-rod electric guitar of Eric Deaton. It was a melting pot of polyrhythm and proud, ecstatic singing. Kumba told us in his interview that about ten years ago after landing in Oxford, MS, he discovered that the music of R.L. Burnside and the area’s fife-and-drum tradition hearkened back to very old styles from his West African home. More to the point, his brilliantly bright disposition shone through the music. And I think a few of us were also elated by the notion that not in 84 years had a sound like that gone out over the airwaves of WSM, and yet it was truly, deeply country music.
Shannon McNally sounded country to the core, with a luscious torchy drawl. She was clearly in an outlaw frame of mind, opting to devote two of her three songs on the Vietti emerging artist set to the memory of Waylon Jennings. She made his “Freedom To Stay” and “Lonesome, Ornery and Mean” very much her own, coaxing emotion on the first and rocking the house on the latter.
That made way for the very stripped down Kenny Brown, who made a whole lot of music with just a vintage archtop electric guitar and a drummer who rocked it in classic Hill Country style. Brown is a renowned practitioner of this raw juke-joint sound, which hums and drones with electricity while it’s sparked with flashes on the slide guitar. A Hill Counry show wouldn’t be really complete without the song “Shake ‘Em On Down” from the repertoires of Bukka White, R.L. Burnside, Fred McDowell and the North Mississippi All Stars. Kenny brought it and brought it good, with a voice like a red clay Billy Joe Shaver.
I was sure Jimbo Mathus was going to keep mining the electric boogie sound, but he’s nothing if not surprising and when he took the stage with his Tri-State Coalition band and kicked off the song “Shady Dealing” he steered toward a country rock vibe straight out of the 1960s. Their suits suggested the direction. Mathus was in lavender with rhinestone-bedecked eagles and peacock feathers. His guitarist was in fire engine red with lightning bolts. But the music carried it home. “Fallen Angel” was honky tonk nectar, and “Tennessee Walking Mare” was a shapely marriage of Dylanesque lyrical art and Allman Brothers guitar slinging. I’m going straightway to pick up his Jimmy The Kid album so I can have that song for myself.
Naturally everyone sounded more than comfortable on the Muddy Waters classic “Got My Mojo Working” for the Loveless Jam. It got me thinking about what Kenny Brown said about his annual summertime blues picnic, and how I think we’d better be there.
Oh, and special thanks to Justin Showah and his Hill Country Records for bringing such a brilliant package of entertainment to our barn.