Fred McDowell - The Alan Lomax Recordings

A blues master
Fred McDowell - The Alan Lomax Recordings
For anyone curious about the blues looking for an entry point into the genre, noting the artists covered by the Stones in their prime would be a good place to start. Fred McDowell was so honoured in 1971 when they interpreted his ‘You Got To Move’ on their ‘Sticky Fingers’ album. Though not included here, there’s enough authentic country blues on this collection to demonstrate without reason why he was chosen to join such hallowed company as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

Having played guitar for most of his life, McDowell was discovered by the esteemed folklorist Alan Lomax in 1959, aged fifty-five, and recorded for posterity in the Library of Congress. Subsequently, he ventured beyond his native Mississippi to find an audience across the States - especially in the folk blues boom of the early Sixties. These recordings pre-date the relative fame he enjoyed, and therefore reveal the genuine, unaffected sound of a man for whom music was an escape from poverty and the hardships of segregation in the South. This is the music heard from his front porch and from the local juke joints in which he’d ply his trade.

From his spirited version of Bukka White’s ‘Shake ’Em On Down’, his wife’s harmonies on ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning’, and his friend Fanny Davis blowing a comb on ‘Going Down To The River’ - not to mention the crickets chirping and a storm raging outside - this is an intimate and essential glimpse into the altruistic talents of a blues master.

9/10

Words by SIMON HARPER

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