MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt (Vanguard)
Its title somewhat belied by the fact that the album was released posthumously in the year after the artist’s 1966 death, despite the colourful cover design and sleevenote entitled “John Hurt, patriarch Hippie”, there’s nothing remotely psychedelic about this record. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, Hurt sings in a slurred, saw-toothed but amiable voice. His work plays like an eternal tussle between religious transcendence and the devil’s works, perhaps best symbolised by the fact that arguably the two most familiar tunes here are “Stagolee” and “Nearer My God To Thee”, played in quick succession.
“The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt” seems an unusual choice for a Record Store Day exclusive release, presumably intended to increase vinyl-spinning blues cognoscenti foot traffic to bricks and mortar independent record shops. Unfortunately that foot traffic might be bi-directional, as this is one of the worst-pressed new records I’ve encountered, plagued by a battery of clicks and pops. Somewhere behind these distractions the music itself sounds pretty good, to the extent that, on some tracks, Hurt’s breathing patterns become an integral part of the performance. Generally, though, this reissue makes a mockery of both the “Vanguard Quality Control” legend on the labels and the sleeve’s assertion that “it affords a roundness, clarity, definition, physical presence and natural directionality so that all awareness vanishes of any intermediary between the listener and the live performance”.