Fred McDowell – The First Recordings, Steakbone Slide Guitar, Leve

The First Recordings, Steakbone Slide Guitar, Leve

These three CDs of Mississippi Fred McDowell all show different sides of the great Delta bluesman.

Rounder’s The First Recordings were recorded by famed musicologist Alan Lomax in 1959, yet among the 14 cuts, this CD version includes four recordings that were never released. The original field recordings have been remastered to 20-bit digital, and the sound is superb.

McDowell’s playing is also superb: eerie, rollicking, and sad all at the same time. Many of his trademark songs are here: “Shake ‘Em On Down” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” as well as some of McDowell’s hymns sung with his wife, Annie Mae.

Tradition’s Steakbone Slide Guitar is pure electricity. This is a reissue of McDowell’s first solo electric album, and he plays slide and fretted electric guitar as if the world was coming to an end. His sound is unique – part Delta blues, part John Lee Hooker-style boogie, part rock and roll.

Tastament’s Levee Camp Blues showcases the full spectrum of a Delta bluesman’s repertoire. These recordings were made in 1966 and 1968, and feature McDowell’s versions of classic Delta blues, such as “Pea Vine Special,” his own originals, and the moody, powerful Delta spirituals and hymns. All are highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in VG‘s June ’98 issue.

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