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By Bill Ellis
The Commercial Appeal
February 21, 2004

Dare You to Do It Again

Jessie Mae Hemphill & Friends
219 Records

Jessie Mae Hemphill is back. First we got arguably the best compilation yet of her classic 1970s and '80s work on the recent High Water/Inside Sounds release Get Right Blues.

Now we catch up with the legendary blues woman today on the delightful double disc Dare You to Do It Again, a hootenanny of a session that pairs Hemphill with a number of guests from ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman Jimbo Mathus (these days a Clarksdale, Miss., resident) to Sharde Thomas with the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band.

Recorded live last year at Sherman Cooper's farm in Como, Miss., the album - to be released Tuesday - doesn't document so much as revel in every spontaneous note (you can even hear a phone ring at one point). A companion DVD will be available in March.

Still singing if not playing (a 1993 stroke all but put an end to that), Hemphill does a sincere, at times touching, job of leading the musicians through many a traditional gospel number, including "Old Time Religion," "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "I Shall Not Be Moved." The highlight, all 12 minutes of it, comes in what sounds like a duet between Memphis boo gie great Robert Belfour and Hemphill (liner notes don't identify players on each song) for the album's solid rock of a rocker, "God Is Good to Me."

Nevertheless, the record could have used some judicious editing and would have worked better as a single disc. Many a song goes on way too long, which might have felt good at the time but gets wearisome translated to disc (do we really need 24 minutes of "Treat Me Right?"). Part of the problem is the ragged nature of the jamming behind Hemphill, where too much fiddling around (literally in some cases) - clutters the essence of Hemphill's rural art.

As is the fashion with certain Fat Possum releases, the record ends with an electronica remix, this one by the acclaimed DJ Logic. The unexpected addition sounds absolutely right, however, an experiment in "techno juke" that should help spark this Hemphill revival if not bring some royalties her way.

The woman to thank for the She-Wolf's return? Blues performer and Hemphill fan Olga Wilhelmine Munding, who put this two-fer out on her indie label, 219 Records, and has co-established the nonprofit Jessie Mae Hemphill Foundation.

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