Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Album Review: Mississippi Fred McDowell - Jesus On The Mainline

Mississippi Fred McDowell
Jesus On The Mainline
***and1/2 out of *****

A collection of two shows from the last year of Mississippi Fred McDowell's life prove that the artist was still on top of his game, even as cancer was going to claim his life in the following year. Jesus On The Mainline showcases two 1971 concerts: April 14th, 1971 in Tacoma, Washington, and November 5th, 1971 at the Gaslight In New York, the final show he would ever play. 

Presented in chronological order, McDowell mentions early on during the Tacoma concert that "he doesn't play no rock and roll", he plays "special songs and the blues". The bottle neck slide on his electric guitar rings out slow and true on the opening "Letter From Hot Springs" as McDowell is vocally in fine form. The gospel of the title track moves like a slow freight train as does the slow and hypnotic "Mercy" which sounds like it was written on and about trains as the tune chugs along. 

The hill country blues slide out with ease with the warbling solos and chugging rhythms of the classic "Shake 'Em On Down" and a tune McDowell doesn't seem fond of anymore "You Got To Move". The Tacoma show (and this release as a whole) reaches it's heights in the middle of the set as a run of the twangy and upbeat take on "Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl" is played with energy before McDowell delivers one of his special songs on "When The Saints Go Marching In", a tune he clearly loves. 

Things stay strong with the confident guitar work and pleading vocals of "Louise" which morphs effortlessly into the revving and relaxing tempos shifts of "Baby Please Don't Go". These four tunes in a row showcase the fluidity, grace and strength that McDowell displays through the blues and his 'special songs'. 

Things move into the slower relaxed blues to end the Tacoma set with the drawn out "Levee Camp Blues" and a solid closer of "Get Right Church" as the show ends on a bright note. For the second show, November 5th, 1971 at the Gaslight In New York, things are different, starting with the sound quality. While Tacoma was bright and sounds professionally recorded, the Gaslight light show is on par with an audience bootleg, sound wise. 

While it is nice to have as a historic document of his last show, the sound makes it hard to truly dig into, especially following the great show presented before it. The tape hiss and sonic distance will be a hinderance, but McDowell's playing has not fallen off much at all. The slow stomping of "Oh That's Alright" slowly stomps out and strums for an extended work out of the down home blues, while "Lord I Wonder What I Have Done Wrong" shows McDowell's passionate gospel influenced vocals over his blues playing.  

The NYC village crowd supports the legend with cheers and clapping rhythm as he wraps up his set with the strong "Fred McDowell's Blues" and "Bye Bye Little Girl" which ease out and come alive with the soul of hill country blues as McDowell moans and yearns with decades of hardship in his voice. 

A solid combo of a top notch live show paired with a nice historical document, the two parts of  Jesus On The Mainline capture McDowell towards the end of his life in fine form.    

Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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