This intriguing recording brings together a French trio (Hypnotic Wheels) with several of the most prominent living players of Mississippi North Hill Country Blues. […]
After a brief instrumental, we hear four field recordings with Cedric Burnside (and one can hear dogs barking in the background) as they launch into a mesmerizing treatment of RL Burnside’s « Goin’ Down South, » with Cedric and Tia alternating vocals with some spellbinding single note guitar runs against a drone musical background. After the performance ends Cedric talks about times with his brother Cody who died at 29 before going into « The Girl is Bad, » with its somewhat jerky groove and slashing slide guitar. This is followed by a high stepping « See My Jumper Hanging On the Line, » with the French trio adding their congenial, if unusual sound to this spirited performance of another RL Burnside song. Cedric further shows how well he continues in the manner of his father on « Rollin’ and Tumblin’. »
Shardé Thomas adds vocals and fife to a vibrant rendition of « Station Blues » (a retitled « Sitting on Top of the World, » with Glomeau providing the fife and drum band groove with Tia and Gilles adding their buzzing backing). It is followed by a haunting « Shawty Blues, »and the spiritual « Glory, Glory Hallelujah. » Cameron Kimbrough then leads us on a lively rendition of « Leave Her Alone, » from his father Junior Kimbrough, set against the mesmerizing backing, while his own « Gonna Love You, » is a tough performance in a similar vein.
Pat Thomas’ « Dream » has a wistful quality while the hurdy gurdy of Chabenat provides a somber fiddle-like backing. It is followed by the trio’s own interpretations including a rendition of Jesse Mae Hemphill’s « She Wolf, » recorded at Dockery Farms, along renditions of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s « Shake ‘Em On Down, » and B.B. King’s recording, « Help The Poor. » One wonders Jesse Mae Hemphill might have thought of her music influencing this French singer and guitarist, who does a more than simply capable job in singing and performing these. Pat Thomas, sounding like his father, James ‘Son’ Thomas, closes this album at the Highway 61 Museum (with traffic in the background) with a simple, stark and moving « Standing at the Crossroads/Dust My Broom » mashup, titled here « Highway 61. »
While this won’t replace the classic recordings of Fred McDowell, RL Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill and Junior Kimbrough, the Hypnotic Wheels has produced a fascinating, enjoyable and idiomatic recording that pays homage to their musical influences. It presents the current practitioners of this tradition with emphatic backing that is so much more appropriate to the music than most efforts to modernize (or commercialize) this tradition. This is a recording that brings pleasure everytime I listen to it.
By Ron Weinstock, in one of his « semi-regular collection of observations, reviews and more about blues, jazz and other matters informed by the blues tradition. » Read the full review on In a Blue Mood.