Record of the Day: Mississippi John Hurt, "Avalon Blues"

Record of the Day: Mississippi John Hurt, “Avalon Blues”

Mississippi John Hurt
Avalon Blues (CD Columbia CK 64986)

Born in 1892 in Teoc, a microscopic hamlet in the Mississippi area, John Hurt is a giant of blues music (despite his diminutive physical stature), whose reputation was formed entirely on the recordings made in 1928 for the label
Ok and reissued on CD by Columbia with excellent sound quality and patient digital restoration work.

In addition to Hurt's beautiful voice, very different from all the other bluesmen of the time as it is extremely relaxed, calm and entrusted to subtle dynamic nuances (therefore very far from the Hollering style of many of his contemporaries), these wonderful recordings immediately highlight his quality of guitarist who, through a finger-picking style with great rhythmic variety, provides a colorful and imaginative support to the often tragic stories that Hurt's voice tells, moving between armed desperadoes who roam around the Delta area and shaggy-hearted women who they enjoy inflicting suffering on their unfortunate companions. Hurt sings and plays in an intimate and collected atmosphere, as if found himself together with a few friends performing for his pure personal pleasure, without spectacular features and giving each syllable of his singing a notable expressive charge.

Despite the moderate success that these records had at the time, Hurt soon disappeared into the obscurity of the Great Depression, dedicating himself to the most varied jobs, from agriculture to cattle trading; no one remembered him anymore, many even gave him up for dead. Only when the producer Tom Hoskins managed to track him down in the town of Avalon (where Hurt lived with his wife and fourteen children) convincing him to record again, Hurt managed to achieve notable success among the young public who in that period were rediscovering the folk music of Woody Guthrie.

The last three years of his life saw him interviewed by magazines such as «Time» and «Newsweek», engaged in concerts throughout the United States and in numerous recordings, but although his work was always of excellent quality he
he no longer reached the intensity and luminous beauty of these 1928 sessions, thirteen authentic jewels whose musical beauty should be counted among the pinnacles of African-American musical culture.

Carlo Boccadoro, composer and conductor, was born in Macerata in 1963. He lives and works in Milan. He collaborates with soloists and orchestras in different parts of the world. He is the author of numerous books on musical topics.

This text is taken from “Lunario della musica: A record for every day of the year” published by Einaudi, courtesy of the author and the publisher.