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Devil Down (DEVILDOWNCD001)

Big Fat Mama, Shake ‘Em On Down, Baby Please Don't Go, Find My Suitcase, Letter From Hot Springs, John Henry, Hello Darling What Have I Done, Dream I Went To The U.N., The Boogie, Little Red Rooster, Get Right Church, Death Came In, Dialogue, I Got Religion, Come And Found You Gone, Where Could I Go, You Gonna Meet King Jesus, An Interview with Bill Ferris.

During the summer of 1967 Bill Ferris went on a field trip and taped sessions with Frank Frost, Big Jack Johnson and most importantly Fred McDowell. That year Fred had already been visited by George Mitchell who reunited him with harmonica player Johnny Woods at a boozy barbecue out in the woods and together they put in the fantastic performance that was originally issued as an Arhoolie LP but is now on Fat Possum Mama Says I'm Crazy.

The music for this CD was recorded at an informal house party when Fred was in a relaxed mood, playing a selection of familiar blues and more obscure material like the up-tempo slide showcase Find My Suitcase, Son House's rumbling old Death Letter Blues - Letter From Hot Springs and the slow circular rhythms of Hello Darling What Have I Done? On the title track, Come And Found You Gone, Fred is in typically masterful form, squeezing out shining runs on the bottom strings with lashings of bottleneck whining across almost every vocal line while Annie Mae cries out encouraging asides and Fred slips a couple of verses of Diving Duck into the song.

Long term Fred fanatics will love the rampant energy of Shake ‘Em On Down with it's barely controlled rhythmic stabbing lines and the way the slide comes into play, pulling the whole thing together into one long sensuous sigh. He takes off again, slamming out an archaic boogie beat to Baby Please Don't Go with the bottleneck echoing the vocal lines before his rock steady strumming comes on like a steam train.

Annie Mae McDowell joins in on five religious tracks that really showcase Fred's guitar playing. They must have done these songs a thousand times down at Hunter's Chapel in Como and her reverent singing is supported by Fred's guitar laying down an insistent backbeat with the slide section weaving in and out of the vocals and, on the track Death Came In, coming back to emphasise the last lines of each verse. There's a nice off-beat touch when Fred brings in a bluesy choogling bass rhythm on the mighty version of Get Right Church. The whole session is easy going and atmospheric with the light hearted banter, led by Annie Mae, perfectly capturing a sense of time and place. I'd love to have been out in the Mississippi woods on that Thursday night in the summer of 1967 listening to Fred and his friends gently swinging out on I Got Religion.

It's the wonderful spine-tingling stuff that McDowell fans have come to expect and I don't need to tell you how important this CD is. He was one of our greatest bluesmen with a substantial recorded legacy but us fans can't get enough so it's a real thrill to hear more of Fred's raw, unvarnished slices of Mississippi hill country blues and gospel that have been hidden away for over forty three years. I wonder what else there is out there...

Review Date: January 2011

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