Muddy Gurdy is absolutely one of the most interesting blues albums I’ve heard in recent years. Hypnotic Wheels, a trio of French musicians, Tia Gouttebel (guitar/vocals) Gilles Chabenat(hurdy-gurdy) and Marc Glomeau (percussion) embarked on a journey to the hills of North Mississippi to record with local blues artists who are tightly connected to the fabulous music of their elders. The recordings were made using a hurdy-gurdy as a second guitar and captured with an eight-microphone preamp and computer in someone’s house, porch, front yard, or historic landmark such as Dockery Farms or B.B. King’s Club Ebony. From Mississippi, the contributing artists are Cedric Burnside, Shardé Thomas, Cameron Kimbrough, and Pat Thomas.
I love the homage to R.L. Burnside, with the wonderfully hypnotic cover of “Goin’ Down South” and the driving beat of “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line”. It’s in these two tracks that the wonder of the hurdy-gurdy is revealed. Its swampy slide-like sound magically lends itself to trance blues music in a very fitting fashion. Cedric Burnside, grandson to R.L., appears with acoustic guitar in hand and mic for a beautiful performance. He pays a wonderful tribute to his late brother Cody Burnside on “That Girl is Bad”, and hangs around for a tantalizing cover of Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”.
Muddy Gurdy explores fife and drum music with Shardé Thomas. Thomas gives a delicate vocal and fife performance on “Station Blues”, a song by her grandfather and fife-master Otha Thomas. Her delivery of the traditional “Glory Glory Hallelujah” is stunning.
It’s a real treat to hear Cameron Kimbrough, tearing it up on guitar while singing his grandfather Junior’s “Leave Her Alone”. The rolling rhythm pulls me right in to its vortex of sound. Cameron inherently keeps the swirling melodic framework in place for his own original tune, “Gonna Love You”. Pat Thomas’ “Dream” is downright extraordinary. Sung and strummed by the son of James “Son” Thomas at the Highway 61 Museum in Leland, Mississippi, this folk-country blues song is a prime example of the inner-beauty of music.
At Dockery Farms, Gouttebel takes the vocal reins on Hypnotic Wheels’ rendition of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s classic “Shake ‘em on Down” which is followed up with a mesmerizing cover of Charles Singleton’s “Help the Poor”, first recorded by B.B. King in 1964.
I highly recommend this album, especially for fans of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues.