It is unexpected to encounter a recording completely dedicated to the music of another, even a blues great such as John Hurt, from singer-songwriter-novelist Bill Morrissey, so eloquent with his own narrative compositions. Morrissey's bouncy, understated fingerstyle guitar work tracks Hurt's well, and the addition of brass to a few of the tracks on "Songs of Mississippi John Hurt" emphasizes a ragtime compatibility in Hurt's compositions. But it is the addition of Morrissey's ragged, gentle voice which subtly yet powerfully alters the tone of these songs, reminding me of some of Tom Rush's sixties blues treatments, yesterday's blues today.
"Funky Butt" illustrates the infectious simplicity of Hurt's music, as well as Morrissey's approach to it, bouncy and friendly, elliptically observant lyrics, a sandpapery vocal seeming to draw the listener into confidences, tasteful accompaniment by (most likely) Cormac McCarthy, credited with the other harmonica performances on the recording. One of my favorite Hurt compositions, "Coffee Blues," follows, James Singleton's acoustic bass a rumble beneath quiet guitar and Morrissey's drawled delivery of suggestive lyrics. Piano and quiet brass add a jazzy, ragtime tone to "Big Leg Blues," and the shuffling drums and trumpet solo on "I'm Satisfied" add a festive New Orleans calypso smile. While we await new original material from Bill Morrissey, we can listen to his tribute to John Hurt. And smile. - Jim Foley