Muddy Gurdy was born when the French trio Hypnotic Wheels traveled to Mississippi to record a Hill Country blues album that included collaborations with the descendants of several North Mississippi legends. Muddy Gurdy wasn’t recorded in a studio. Instead, the band engaged in modern-day field recording using microphones and a laptop. The result is an album that sounds far more intimate than anything produced in a recording studio. On a quality sound system, Muddy Gurdy brings a back porch jam session into the listener’s living room. The performances are natural and spontaneous, with the various musicians playing off one another beautifully. Because Hypnotic Wheels includes a traditional French hurdy gurdy (hence the album name), along with guitar, percussion and vocals, they bring a unique twist to their take on Hill Country blues.
Cedric Burnside joins the band for a series of tracks recorded at Sherman Cooper’s farm in Como. On a cover of R.L. Burnside’s Goin’ Down South, Tia Gouttebel and Burnside trade vocals with ease. The droning sound of Gilles Chabenat’s hurdy gurdy adds a haunting ambience. A reading of Cedric Burnside’s own That Girl Is Bad kicks up the energy level. Guitars, percussion and hurdy gurdy all blend to create a sound that’s discordant but still grounded in North Mississippi’s trademark hypnotic groove. Sharde Thomas joins the band for a series of tracks recorded at Moon Hollow Farm. Her fife playing breathes life into a spirited rendition of Otha Turner’s Station Blues. While at Moon Hollow Farm, the band also recorded an intense performance of Junior Kimbrough’s Leave Her Alone. Cameron Kimbrough’s vocals drip with menace and paranoia, and his guitar licks add a dose of juke joint grit.
A pair of performances that feature Hypnotic Wheels unaccompanied by guest musicians demonstrates the band’s respect and devotion to Hill Country blues. The French musicians do justice to Jessie Mae Hemphill’s She Wolf and Fred McDowell’s Shake ’Em On Down. Tia Gouttebel is a standout —her voice has a natural depth and her guitar riffs seem to flow effortlessly. It’s great to hear a young group of European musicians exhibit such love and appreciation for traditional American music —Muddy Gurdy makes the sounds of North Mississippi fresh and exhilarating once again.
By Jon Kleinman. Read the review in the June-July, 2018, issue of Living Blues magazine.