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Mississippi Fred McDowell | Mama Says Im Crazy | review | blues | rock | Lollipop
Mississippi Fred McDowell
Mama Says I'm Crazy (Fat Possum)
by Brian Varney
I'm one o' them uncultured snobs who finds most blues records boring. I know that any rock'n'roll hipster worth his salt is supposed to talk about Arhoolie and Yazoo albums like they're the friggin' holy grail, but I find 90% of the stuff pretty unremarkable (the same can be said for rock'n'roll, of course). This isn't to say that I have no use for the genre; several blues artists (Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Junior Kimbrough, and Hound Dog Taylor immediately spring to mind) are among my favorite musicians ever. I generally tend to prefer raw, greasy boogie, the sort of stuff Fat Possum specializes in, such as the two fine recordings placed before me today.
Recorded live by two guys (T-Model singing and guitaring and a guy named Spam on drums, playing rhythms that sound like a rickety Model T about to throw a rod), Bad Man is raw like a wound scrubbed with steel wool, jagged like the neck snapped from a bottle of Thunderbird ESQ, and chock full of soul and an attitude most pierced-lip punks wish they could summon. This is about as far from boring 12-bar blues as can be. A few songs of this and you'll wish you were listening in a run-down juke joint in the middle of nowhere, but get yourself some cheap whiskey, crank this way the fuck up, and twenty minutes later, you'll be so crazed from the combination of the two that you won't care where you are.
Mama Says I'm Crazy was recorded in a house in a couple of hours in 1965 by Mississippi Fred McDowell (acoustic guitar and vox) and Johnny Woods (harmonica). These two old friends hadn't played together in eight years, and the songs on the disc were recorded pretty much as you hear them. There were no second takes, even though, according to the notes that come with the disc, Woods was so drunk that the two men sat facing one another so Fred could whisper directions to him.
These factors considered, it's pretty amazing that this is so fiery and enthusiastic without being a drunken trainwreck of anarchic noise. In fact, had the notes not shared these facts, I would've never guessed that the recording came together so haphazardly. I mean, don't get me wrong, the album is not devoid of sloppiness, but it's not the mess I would've expected from two guys - one of them loaded on moonshine - who hadn't played together in eight years. And besides, a bit of sloppiness never hurt this sort of music, especially when it's as raucous as this. It's not something that I often say about acoustic blues, but this stuff rocks. If I had to choose between these two I'd probably pick T-Model Ford just 'cause you can boogie to it, but either will make fine accompaniment for the next time you pass out and slobber on the floor.
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