The Best of Mississippi John Hurt, by Mississippi John Hurt, 1990. Vanguard, 19/20.
This album is a live concert recording from Oberlin College, 1965, of one of the most influential and imitated guitarists of the 20th century. Though recorded near the end of his life, Mississippi John Hurt’s distinctive fingerstyle guitar playing and wonderful singing voice are in good form throughout.
The concert actually covers a variety of song genres, all subject to the John Hurt interpretation. Gospel tunes such as “I Shall Not be Moved” and “Nearer My God To Thee,” blues tunes including “Avalon, My Home Town,” and “Salty Dog Blues,” and the folk songs “Chicken” and “You Are My Sunshine” are representative of Hurt’s broad repertoire.
Many of the songs on this album have become standards in the playing of acoustic blues players. “Avalon,” “My Creole Belle,” and “Stagolee” are a few of the examples of the ubiquity of John Hurt tunes and arrangements in the finger picking guitar community.
Musically, the highlights of the album may be the gospel tunes for the beauty of the simplicity of the guitar accompaniment and the prominent attention given to John Hurt as a singer. Hurt’s instrumental prowess is evidenced on guitar breaks in tunes like “Avalon” and “Sliding Delta.” Finally, “Spanish Fandango” and “Talking Casey” feature open-tuning playing, with the latter exhibiting Hurt’s slide technique.
This album is a classic and a must-have for fans of blues, folk music, and guitarists. The song selection serves as a repository of American folk music and styles, and the restrained, but sophisticated, aesthetic sense of Mississippi John Hurt makes this album a pleasure to hear.