Blues Underground Network
The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert (DVD)
I don't get to see the vast number of live blues I used to, due to the fact that our local Blues Club sold it's soul for the love of money and more mainstream pop and rock music. That however is somewhat compensated for with the many fine CD's I receive for review which I can leisurely listen to over a nice meal, beer, glass of wine, or all the above. At least once or twice a year I am lucky enough to have a Blues DVD sent to me for review and the following is one I recently received.
It was all the summer, and all the
Many of us have heard the song "Sitting On Top Of The World", but how many of us new it was originally a song written by The Mississippi Sheiks, in 1930?
"The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular and successful string bands of the 1930's. Most of their members were part of the same family, the Chatmans, which included Charley Patton and Peter Chatman as members. They recorded under many different names: Walter Jacobs and the Carter Brothers; The Chatmon Brothers; The Mississippi Mud Steppers; The Mississippi Blacksnakes, as well as the better known Mississippi Sheiks. The name was adopted from an old film starring Rudolph Valentino called "The Sheiks". Their brother Bo's real name was Armenter, but he recorded under the name Bo Carter throughout his career. The Sheiks themselves were extremely sophisticated compared to similar groups, playing in various keys, utilizing complex chords, etc. They played for both black and white audiences. They played many styles of music, hokum, folk, dance music, waltzes, two-steps, black bottom, and of course country blues."
The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert (DVD) is the second of 2 projects envisioned and put together by Vancouver songwriter, musician and producer Steve Dawson, the first project being, the Tribute Album, "Things About Comin' My Way - A Tribute To The Music Of The Mississippi Sheiks".
The concert was filmed at the Capillano Performing Arts Theatre in North Vancouver, British Columbia, over a period of two nights, March 12th and 13th, 2010, and along with Steve Dawson and his house band, their were also a great lineup of guest performers including, Oh Susanna, The Sojourners, Geoff Muldaur, Colin James, Bob Brozman, Van Dyke Parks, Robin Holcomb, Alvin Youngblood Hart, John Hammond, Dave Alvin, Christy McWilson, and Jim Byrnes. Some of the Guest Artists played on the original Tribute Album, such as, The Sojourners, John Hammond, Oh Susanna, Jim Byrnes, Geoff Muldaur, Bob Brozman, and Robin Holcomb, however they did sing different songs on the DVD Tribute, except for Robin Holcomb who sung "I've Got Blood In My Eyes For You", on both projects.
Of the 17 songs that were part of the Tribute Album, only 5 were used for this Tribute Concert DVD. This of course makes for another fresh new experience and in doing it that way, it also becomes a good companion set to have, with a lot different on each Project.
The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert (DVD) has a run-time of 85 minutes and consists of an introduction by Steve Dawson, and several of the guest performers, and other artists going through how the projects were put together, including some preliminary rehearsing.
The show starts in fine fashion with Jim Byrnes doing commentary about The Mississippi Sheiks, as the band quietly played "Sitting On Top Of The World". That opening to the Show set the tone beautifully for the all the great songs that followed, by all the great guest artists. I specifically liked the extra touch that they added to the ambience of the concert by having the picture of each songs record label as it was being performed.
Each performance from each of the Guest Artists where not only very special, but they also offered us a unique look into who The Mississippi Sheiks were and how differce and special their talent and writing, and musical ability was. As the Guest Artists showed, The Mississippi Sheiks were certainly on of the best groups of it's era and created a lot of music that will forever be timeless.
As for all the Artists whom contributed to this Project, one only has to Google their names to bear witness to their immense talent, which shines through on each and every song, especially The Sojourners, redention of "Sweet Maggie", one of my favorite performances on this DVD.
The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert (DVD) contains, as one might expect, a lot of highlights, from the opening Chapter to the final gathering of all the Artists to sing "Sitting On Top Of The World", which of course is the way a lot of concerts end when they are a Tribute Style Concert.
The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert (DVD) is certainly a DVD worth having in ones collection, filed under the category of very important blues history. It is also a more than worthy companion to the Tribute Album that preceded it.
As far as Blues Oriented DVD's go, this is certainly one of the finest productions I have have had the opportunity to Review, thanks largely to the efforts of Steve Dawson and those more than willing to help and contribute for their good friend and fellow Artist.
Review By John Vermilyea (Blues Underground Network)
Other Reviews And Info
Gritty, unwashed and real. The blues saved American popular music from the saccharine whitewash of the 1950’s. For young people growing up at that time, the blues lexicon of hasty retreats out the back door, wife stealing preachers and men who solved arguments at the end of a smoking gun offered another way of seeing and experiencing life. Nearly fifty years later, the blues has lost its bite, and has been used to sell everything from new cars to presidents. Shifting uncomfortably under the weight of its restrictive forms and cultural baggage, it’s a musical form that’s long been in serious need of an overhaul. But, there was no indication that Steve Dawson was fazed by the challenges he faced producing his Mississippi Sheiks tribute CD and the two concerts that celebrated its release as he collaborated with both blues veterans and artists from other genres to share their love for the music with a rapturous crowd over a March weekend in Vancouver.
‘Things About Comin’ My Way’ — the album that paid tribute to the gritty music created by the Chatmon family during the 1930’s and 40’s — served as a template for the concerts, but Dawson couldn’t resist shaking up the format a little to allow for elements of spontaneity and surprise. To this end, he corralled the talents of Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, Matt Chamberlain on drums and Keith Lowe on bass – the same session players who played on the album — to provide the bedrock sound for the concerts. The renowned Victoria fiddle and trumpet player, Daniel Lapp was also recruited to flush out the sound of the house band. With Lapp in the group, the music assumed extra dimensions that allowed the musicians to travel all over the sonic map from roadhouse blues to Cajun fiddling to sojourns deep into experimental jazz territory. Add to it Dawson’s expansive guitar playing and — even without the considerable roster of guests — a beautiful and challenging evening of music was virtually guaranteed.
For those fortunate enough to hear the second show of the series, it didn’t take long to realize that some serious chemistry was established between the musicians during the first concert. So, by the time Dawson and company took the stage at eight o’clock on Sunday night, all of the barriers had come down, and intuition was given free rein. And while the blues — like reggae — isn’t the hardest music in the world to play from a technical standpoint, feeling is essential and something that can’t be learned from a book or a lesson. Thankfully, feeling was at a premium throughout the more than three hours of music the sold out audience was treated to — as the blues was revitalized and given new life right before their eyes and ears.
Woodstock, Dylan at Newport, Bob Marley at the Lyceum – over the years some concerts assume such mythic dimensions that they take on a life of their own that extends well beyond the event itself. Those two or three short hours on stage gain momentum with the passage of time and live on in the memories of the fortunate few who were lucky enough to be there. The Tribute to Mississippi Sheiks was just such a concert, and for those who attended the show, this DVD will fuel memories and serve as a memento to be treasured as the years pass. For those who couldn’t be there, the DVD will go a long way towards helping people share in the energy and excitement of those magical performances, and make them ruefully wonder what on earth they were doing that night that was so important that they didn’t hop a bus, train, or plane or — like Muddy Waters did when the Sheiks passed through his part of the world — walk ten miles to see them play' such "high time" music.
The concert was filmed over two nights at the Capillano Performing Arts Theatre in North Vancouver, British Columbia resulting in this nearly 80 minute DVD. Steve Dawson put together a house band for all the performances here which is in contrast to the original recording which used a house band for some sessions but not for all and one result is a sameness in feeling among some of the selections. The opening of the video is Dawson discussing how this happened followed by an opening scene when some autobiographical comments by the late Sam Chatmon are read to a string band accompaniment of “Sitting on Top of the World.” Performances vary by artist opening with O Susanna’s rendition of “Things About Comin’ My Way,” which did not sound completely convincing to these ears, and the very strong “Who’s Been Here,” by Dave Alvin and Christy McWilson.” The Sojourners perform “Sweet Maggie,” a somewhat unsatisfactory rendition of a song similar to “Corrine Corrina.” Geoff Muldaur on banjo leads the band on a rendition of “Poor Boy,” that strikes me as owing as much to Gus Cannon as the Chatmon family but he sounds comfortable in the very busy accompaniment.
Dawson himself does a reflective country-flavored rendition of “Gulf Coast bay,” far remove from the old time string band. Of course that is one of Dawson’s aims, to take the songs and appreciate them as such, more so then the performances. Bob Brozman’s contributions as a sideman on several tracks as well as his rendition of “Church Bell Blues,” strikes me as stronger than his contribution to the CD. John Hammond adds harp here and a couple more performances. Robin Holcolb’s rendition of “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You,” comes off as overly melodramatic which Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart’s “Livin’ In a Strain,” is a fine rendition of a song that Kelly Joe Phelps handled on the CD. Colin James nice a nice job on the mid-tempo blues “Keep On Tryin’,” but one wishes for a bit sparer backing. John Hammond’s rendition of “Kind Treatment,” does not strike me as strong a vocal as his fine “Stop on Listen” on the disc, and its odd that one of what some who call the group’s signature tunes is not presented on this disc. Hammond’s performance is not bad, just a little mannered.
No doubt most will find these performances entertaining (and they are). However, with respect to the CD, I observed the relatively few performers of color and that is even more evident here. Even more important, the logistics of the concert including the use of a house band leads to the music here having less of the flavor of an African-American string band. I certainly do not dispute not having a collection of covers, and allowing performers to bring there own personality, but this DVD would have been more satisfying if several of the performances had a different spin to them.
Review Courtesy Of In A Blue Mood http://inabluemood.blogspot.com/2010/08/mississippi-sheiks-tribute-concert.html
...To me, one of the great joys about blues music is that there's always a steady stream of historians, musicologists and musicians who (at their core) are still huge fans of the music and its history. The Mississippi Sheiks played a huge role in the development and popularization of country/blues music in the 1930s; the 2009 release, "Things About Coming My Way," did a fine job of paying tribute to this seminal act. Set for a September 21 release is this DVD companion to that album, documenting the concert event that was part of the tribute and celebration, and it's a fine and worthy addition to any blues fan's library... and I'd go so far as to call it "near crucial" for music historians.
The concept of the tribute is classic; five outstanding musicians from the Vancouver area form the "house band" for the concert, and a bevy of guest musicians provide flair, color and some surprisingly contemporary arrangements of the material. The house band is comprised of Matt Chamberlain on drums and percussion, Steve Dawson on guitars, pedal steel and banjo, Wayne Horvitz on organ, piano, pump organ and Wurlitzer, Daniel Lapp on fiddle, trumpet, mandolin and tuba and Keith Lowe on bass. Dawson, who is also the head of Black Hen Music, was the organizer of the show, and it's obvious throughout that this was a labor of love and respect. The DVD opens with a nice segment featuring interviews with Dawson and quite a few of the folks who played the concert; they speak of the legacy of the Sheiks ("Muddy Waters once said he'd walk ten miles to see them play") and their great influence on the popular music of their day. Dawson also mentions that they were one of, if not THE, best selling acts of their era, and how he was saddened to think that their legacy had been almost forgotten... and as such, the two projects (CD and DVD) were born.
The house band is superb, with double-plus kudos going to Daniel Lapp. The eclectic array of instruments he plays adds a ton to the tone and textures of these interpretations; his trumpet playing, for example, runs the gamut from bold and assertive to an almost pleading quality; he wrings a similar range of emotions from his fiddle as well. The parade of guest artists who front the band for a song each is as impressive as it is diverse; from the deservedly high-profile (John Hammond, Geoff Muldaur) to a few names right on the fringe of blues stardom (Alvin Youngblood Hart, Colin James) right through to a healthy share of artists outside of the pure blues genre, some of them extremely interesting choices (Van Dyke Parks, Robin Holcomb, Dave Alvin). Among the best angles of the concert's concept is that each of the guest artists obviously had a hand in the stylistic approaches to their own contributions. That can be dangerous, with the potential of coming across as a hodge podge of styles lacking cohesiveness, but for the most part, that is avoided here (which is yet another tribute to both the excellence of the house band and the wisdom of having a single unit backing each of the guests). The presentation and pacing of the show are also well thought out. A nice visual touch is the projecting of images of the old classic record label designs that the Sheiks used to record for (Vocalion, Okey and Columbia, if I remember correctly), and on the part of the label that lists the song and artist, the artists performing each tribute are listed.
Fittingly, the concert both begins and ends with the Sheiks' signature song, "Sitting On Top Of The World." In the opening piece, an instrumental version of the song plays while a narrative about the band is spoken over the top of it; it's a suitable and properly reverential way to begin the show. The end performance of the song features every single performer who loaned their talents to this event, and it's an impressive display of both concept and talent.
With the wide variety of styles presented here, it's unlikely that too many folks will enjoy every single piece on the album, but I also can't imagine that anybody would find any single performance so objectionable that they'd want to skip past it. My own personal favorites are from The Sojourners, Colin James, Alvin Youngblood Hart and (of course) John Hammond. The Sojourners add a superb gospel styling to "Sweet Maggie;" it's just plain good to remember every now and again how beautiful three human voices can sound together. Colin James contributes both guitar and vocal excellence to "Keep On Trying," accompanied on harp by John Hammond, and the result leaves the viewer hoping for some future collaborations between the pair. Alvin Youngblood Hart offers a comical anecdote about "Livin' In A Strain," then delivers a real knockout version of the song on lap steel guitar. John Hammond contributes "Kind Treatment," and the title alone is almost as much a tribute to Hammond as to the Sheiks; as always, he gives a spirited and genuinely affectionate performance... and almost deflects the appreciation of the crowd as he lauds the truly excellent musicians behind him. Hammond is and has always been a real class act.
This one is five stars in my book. It doesn't matter if you approach this from a historical or strictly entertainment point of view - the concert and this DVD archive of this important event are both winners, start to finish.
Review By Silver Michaels
Listen To Samples Here...
About The Mississippi Sheiks
The Mississippi Sheiks were one of the most popular and successful string bands of the 1930's. Most of their members were part of the same family, the Chatmans, which included Charley Patton and Peter Chatman as members. They recorded under many different names: Walter Jacobs and the Carter Brothers; The Chatmon Brothers; The Mississippi Mud Steppers; The Mississippi Blacksnakes, as well as the better known Mississippi Sheiks.
The name was adopted from an old film starring Rudolph Valentino called "The Sheiks". Their brother Bo's real name was Armenter, but he recorded under the name Bo Carter throughout his career. The Sheiks themselves were extremely sophisticated compared to similar groups, playing in various keys, utilizing complex chords, etc. They played for both black and white audiences. They played many styles of music, hokum, folk, dance music, waltzes, two-steps, black bottom, and of course country blues.
While playing for a white square dance in Itta Bena, Mississippi, they were discovered by local record dealer Ralph Lembo. Lembo arranged for their first OKeh recording session. In February 1930, the field recording unit of OKeh set up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Polk Brockman was the producer/manager, and was the overseer of the first session.
Their biggest hits were "Sitting On Top of the World" and the legendary, "Stop and Listen Blues ..2", the title take from the railroad crossing warning: "Stop-Look-Listen," both written by Vinson and Carter. The majority of the Sheiks' recordings were made by Vinson (sometimes referred to as a cousin) on vocals and guitar, and Lonnie, apparently the only family member, along with Bo, who was capable of reading music.
Lonnie Chatmon died in the early 1940's. Walter Vinson was discovered during the first blues revival during the 1960's, made several recordings then died in 1975. Bo Carter too was found in the 1960's, he was extremely poor and blind.