A brief tribute to tributes
Was a time, back when record labels roamed the earth hunting for hits and cheap product, when even a struggling scribe could hope to be in a position to somehow assemble a record in tribute to his or her favorite artist. My co-editor, Mr. Blackstock, contrived to produce a fine homage to Mickey Newberry, for example; I never did, but Peter is musical and I’m just a semi-retired critic.
As noted too often in this space, I am desultory at best about opening the mail. In fact, I’ve got about a month’s worth of envelopes stacked up behind me, but decided to spend a moment or two typing by way of further delaying the opening.
Because I accidentally opened one yesterday. A package. An envelope. A tribute album: Things About Comin’ My Way: A tribute to the music of the Mississippi Sheiks. Produced and assembled and loved all to death by Steve Dawson, up Vancouver, B.C., way, and released on the Canadian imprint Black Hen. Now, the fact that it’s a Canadian project may well explain how such an anachronism came into being, because the Canadian government does a kind job subsidizing the making of music, even today. (One wonders how and if that will continue, but I’ve no way of knowing without actually Googling or something, and I don’t need to jump down THAT rabbit hole before the lunch rush.)
That the Mississippi Sheiks existed and more than deserve a tribute I’m not going to discuss. The name either means something to you or you need to do more reading and listening than I have time to put in this little space, in this little burst of time. They did, and they do.
Quickly, then, here’s the track list:
1. It’s Backfirin’ Now (The North Mississippi Allstars)
2. Things About Comin’ My Way (Ndidi Onukwulu…never heard of her, but I think I should)
3. Stop and Listen (John Hammond, of course)
4. Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down (Bruce Cockburn)
5. Bootlegger’s Blues (Oh Susanna, arrangement by Van Dyke Parks…good to know she’s still banging around out there, not a name I’ve heard for some time)
6. Sitting On Top Of The World (The Carolina Chocolate Drops…almost too obvious a choice, almost too reverential a playing…and yet a delight)
7. Too Long (Danny Barnes
8. Jailbird Love Song (Jim Byrnes, a very underappreciated sometime actor gone bluesman; at least underappreciated on this side of the border)
9. That’s It (Bill Frisell, who also played an integral part in the Mickey Newberry project)
10. Please Baby (Madeleine Peyroux…not messing around here, see?)
11. Livin’ In A Strain (Kelly Joe Phelps)
12. Lonely One In This Town (Steve Dawson)
13. The World Is Going Wrong (Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks; I wonder if this is common to their album, or an extra track? Again, I could look, but I’m just not that curious)
14. We Both Are Feeling Good Right Now (Del Rey)
15. Somebody’s Gotta Help You (Bob Brozman)
16. He Calls That Religion (The Sojourners)
17. I’ve Got Blood In My Eyes For You (Robin Holcomb…funny ending place, and yet, perfect).
So, look. I’ve only played pieces of this now. I’m mostly just tickled to death that it exists, to have a reason to go back to my old Legacy collection of Sheiks songs and compare them, to listen to all these terrific people play all this terrific music.
This, I fear, is another tradition we may lose as music segues into the land of trust funds and what passes for artistic freedom, to the extent that the demise of the record label structure is thought to equate with such an illusory promise. And so a tip of my hat, the dirty one that I wear in the garden that says “GET LOST,” to Mr. Dawson for making it happen.