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Review written by Mick Rainsford
Ratings 9 each

Olga - Blues Babe219 Records TNR 1002
Jessie Mae Hemphill & Friends - Dare You To Do It Again
219 Records TNR 1003A

Looking at the photo that adorns the cover of Olga's CD, 'Blues Babe' is an apt description of this talented artist whose sultry beauty is evident in both her looks and more importantly her music. Playing acoustic, electric, slide and classical guitar, as well as tambourine, chimes, recorder and washboard, Olga lays down a wonderful set of, often, haunting and melancholy blues that entice the listener into her 'blues world' in the same way that the Sirens lured the sailors in legend.

Olga opens with the hypnotic rhythms of 'One Good Thing', her insinuous, and sensual, vocals reminding me of a female RL Burnside, a feeling that is carried over into the broodingly hypnotic Mississippi hill country blues of 'O Man I Picked The Wrong Brother Again!'. The sultry sweet 'Gotta Put My Hands On You' is a request it would be difficult to refuse; the wistfulness of 'My Baby Blue' is accentuated by the catch in Olga's vocals and her haunting slide work, the use of a recorder and the song's hypnotic rhythms giving the perception of a fife and drum band; whilst 'I'm Off Your Sugar exudes a melancholy Skip James feel.

The haunting slide driven 'I See Through You', and two wistful country blues, 'Can't Keep A Good Girl Down' and 'Mama's Boy', are further highlights of a set that will delight all lovers of quality country blues.

The Hemphill family have long been doyens of the North Mississippi hill country blues scene, Jessie Mae distinguishing herself with some of the toughest blues to emerge from that area, prompting her nickname of the 'She Wolf'. Since her stroke in 1993, Jessie Mae has given up singing blues, concentrating instead on 'church' music, but don't let this influence you, as she performs her religious material with the same intensity and passion that she bought to her blues; the dividing line between both genres being minimal in Jessie Mae's hands.

For this double CD set, producers Olga Wilhelmine Munding and Tyler Austin gathered a plethora of Jessie Mae's musician friends, including Kenny Brown, Robert Belfour, Ruthie Foster, Jumbo Mathus, Sharde Turner and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Corps, Gary and Cedric Burnside and Kent Kimbrough, at Sherman Cooper's Farm in Como, Mississippi for what sleeve note writer Jumbo Mathus describes as "an alcohol fuelled juke-joint throw down presided over Sister Jessie Mae in a leopard skin cowboy hat", a comment I could have no arguments with.

The first CD, titled 'Songs For Pookie', opens with the wonderful 'Fife & Drum Intro' replete with vocal asides from Jessie, who then launches into 'Lay My Burden Down', the frailty of her vocals allied to haunting slide (Kenny Brown?) belying the gospel intensity this number engenders. 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' mines an hypnotic hill country groove fired by Jessie's tambourine and replete with intoxicating fiddle and slide, both of which again come to the fore echoing Jessie's vocals as she draws the listener inexorably into her proclamation of 'Old Time Religion'. The wistful string band styled "I Shall Not Be Moved', the Cajun feel of 'This Little Light Of Mine', and the stark contrast between Robert Belfour's tough and uncompromising vocals and slide, and Jessie's plaintiveness, gives added depth and textures to the wonderful 'Motherless Children'.

The second CD, 'Songs For Bebe' opens with the hypnotic country (blues) gospel of 'God Is Good To Me', Jessie's tambourine highlighting the hill country rhythms whilst her vocals are permeated with pathos. I can only describe 'Treat Me Right' as a 23 minute gospel groove fired by tantalizing harp and slide, Jessie's vocals not appearing until the song is half way through; 'Swing Low' is 'back-porch' gospel with ethereal fiddle and slide accentuating the pathos inherent in the vocal harmonies; whilst the loops and other electronic tricks on 'Porch Logic Remix' actually work accentuating the number's deep blues feel. Ruthie Foster further enhances her burgeoning reputation with the deeply soulful 'Runaway Soul', Jessie imploring the band to "take the music down while she's singing so I can hear her".

Throughout both of these CDs, Jessie is clearly enjoying herself constantly laughing and interjecting the music with her vocal asides, an enjoyment and enthusiasm that the listener will be unable to ignore, making this an essential purchase for all lovers of North Mississippi Hill Country music. (www.219records.com)

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