Over the past week I’ve been spinning two recently released blues compilations that have introduced me to a whole slew of musicians; both new and old. Each of these releases has something for both the blues aficionado and newbie – and they come courtesy one of the best record stores in America.
Hospitality State of Mind
Noted as one of the “10 Best” record stores in the country by USA Today, and one of the “Top 5” record stores in the South by Southern Living magazine, End of All Music, is a must-visit. This little shop in Oxford, Mississippi, caters to all genres of music but End of All Music is known around the country as one of the premier places to find blues, soul, gospel, and country music. New releases and very rare recordings that don’t make the journey north very often. Oxford is a town of writers, college students, and world-class food. Folks snicker when Southerners utter that but it’s a destination for a reason.
What also makes the store unique is its renown “Record of the Month” club and record label. When Hospitality State of Mind was announced, I knew that it would be one of those “sleeper” albums that any serious fan of the blues would have to own.
Hospitality State of Mind is a hand-picked collection of blues, gospel, and folk songs recorded by George Mitchell from 1967 through the 1980s. Mitchell is a music historian who carried out a similar mission to Alan Lomax; traveling primarily throughout Mississippi and Georgia to make field recordings of previously unrecorded musicians.
While not as well-known as some of his peers, Mitchell’s work has proven to be invaluable; unveiling even more of the musical landscape of rural communities in the South. Fat Possum has previously released his recordings, but this new LP represents one of the more unique curated compilations of his work.
As soon as the needle drops on Cliff Scott’s “Long Wavy Hair,” the listener is instantly made to feel at home through his beautiful fingerpicking guitar and striking voice. Fellow Georgian, John Lee Ziegler livens things up with some good-ole’ foot-stompin’ blues in “If I Lose Let Me Lose.”
There are some fantastic gospel tunes to be found here as well; the most memorable of which is “Bound for Zion” by the Pettis Sisters. Their powerful voices and unique harmonies are backed by a distant electric guitar that provides just enough rhythm while letting the vocals shine. Robert Nighthawk’s “Nighthawk Boogie” adds the perfect touch of rock ‘n roll to the mix.
Hospitality State of Mind lives up to its name. It’s the perfect record to spin any time, for any occasion, and will provide you and your friends a big dose of southern hospitality. While the record is not meant to be an academic take on the blues, it provides some needed exposure for lesser known artists. I was only familiar with two of the artists; Robert Nighthawk and Furry Lewis, but I’m now on the hunt for some other recordings of these other long forgotten musicians who were never afforded the opportunity to play before audiences in different parts of the country. The blues are an integral part of the American experience and I applaud End of All Music for making this record available. Buy at The End of All Music.
A Benefit for Equality: Volume 1
There are some records that you likely won’t hear about unless you visit a record store. Whether it is sold exclusively at indie shops or perhaps made in a limited run or for a certain region; these records bring about one of the real joys of collecting – that feeling of going to the record store and discovering something new and unexpected. It’s a feeling that I have missed so much during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, it is thankfully one that I have still been able to experience to some extent in a virtual capacity. As I visited End of All Music’s website to order Hospitality State of Mind, I saw the A Benefit for Equality LP listed on their homepage. After recognizing some familiar names on the cover, I knew it was going to be a must-have.
A Benefit for Equality is a special, limited-edition LP to celebrate Black artistry in the blues genre. Released during Black History Month, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the NAACP. The LP is limited to 500 pressings and only available from independent record stores. It’s a celebration of so many gifted artists.
The mix of artists on the compilation is incredibly wide-ranging. The album leads off with “The World Is In A Tangle,” the single from Jontavious Willis’ Grammy-nominated 2019 album, Spectacular Class. It’s a laid-back folk blues about the state of the world that is more poignant than ever in 2021. Muddy Waters’ son, Mud Morganfield brings the psychedelic vibes on “Who’s Fooling Who?” harkening back to his dad’s infamous Electric Mud record. The side rounds out with “Hard To Stay Cool,” a cut from Cedric Burnside’s spectacular debut Benton County Relic. Another descendent of a blues legend (his grandfather is the great R.L. Burnside), Cedric’s brand of electric, hill country blues, will stop you in your tracks with its complexity.
Side B brings even more legendary performers to the table. Texas’ own Ruthie Foster unleashes her stunning, soulful voice on the stripped down “Brand New Day,” singing of hope and promise for the future. T-Model Ford delivers a filling of pure, unadulterated delta blues on “Take a Ride with Me.” Beginning his career in his late ’70s, Ford released eight albums in a fourteen-year period, predominantly on Fat Possum, and became known for his raw, electric style. The collection rounds out with a track from Ironing Board Sam. Having never heard of him, I discovered that he hails from South Carolina and released a few albums in the early 2010s. The selected song, “Super Spirit,” is the last one off his last album — an esoteric, moody number that is truly the perfect finale for both his record and this compilation.
If you’re looking to discover some new blues, look no further than A Benefit for Equality. Grab yourself a copy of this excellent comp from an indie shop before it’s gone.