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George Mitchell: “So beautifully innovative”

How could anyone have imagined 50 years ago, when I made the first field recordings of R.L. Burnside and Otha Turner, that I would now be writing about some blues artists who traveled from FRANCE to make some field recordings of —and WITH— R.L.’s and Otha’s GRANDCHILDREN! The resulting album, Murdy Gurdy (titled after one of their instruments, a traditional French one called a hurdy gurdy), is so beautifully innovative that I have enjoyed listening to it repeatedly. Cedric Burnside and Sharde Thomas (and Cameron Kimbrough) were obviously inspired by this fresh approach to Hill Country Blues, and they sound great in these one-take, highly spontaneous recordings done on location (with rather more sophisticated equipment than I used in 1967). Since two other Hill Country artists I recorded back then, Fred McDowell and Jessie Mae Hemphill, had no grandchildren carrying on their music, the French trio, Hypnotic Wheels, recorded their own highly energetic and unique versions of “Shake ‘Em on Down” and “She Wolf.” Tia Gouttebel is the singer and guitarist, and may be the most innovative blues musician solidly grounded in tradition performing today.

By record producer and music historian George Mitchell.

George Mitchell has written several books, the latest being Mississippi Hill Country Blues 1967 which includes a collection of a hundred black and white photographs, released in 2013 by the University of Mississippi Press. Before, he published Blow My Blues Away (Louisiana State University Press, 1971), I’m Somebody Important: Young Black Voices from Rural Georgia (University of Illinois Press, 1973), Yessir, I’ve Been Here a Long Time: The Faces and Words of Americans Who Have Lived a Century (E.P. Dutton, 1975).

He also recorded numerous albums, which were released by Fat Possum, Arhoolie, Rounder, Testament, Hightone, Flyright, Southland and Swingmaster. Fat Possum has issued 26 CDs of field recordings known as The George Mitchell Collection.

Living Blues Magazine: “Such love and appreciation”

Muddy Gurdy was born when the French trio Hypnotic Wheels traveled to Mississippi to record a Hill Country blues album that included collaborations with the descendants of several North Mississippi legends. Muddy Gurdy wasn’t recorded in a studio. Instead, the band engaged in modern-day field recording using microphones and a laptop. The result is an album that sounds far more intimate than anything produced in a recording studio. On a quality sound system, Muddy Gurdy brings a back porch jam session into the listener’s living room. The performances are natural and spontaneous, with the various musicians playing off one another beautifully. Because Hypnotic Wheels includes a traditional French hurdy gurdy (hence the album name), along with guitar, percussion and vocals, they bring a unique twist to their take on Hill Country blues.

Cedric Burnside joins the band for a series of tracks recorded at Sherman Cooper’s farm in Como. On a cover of R.L. Burnside’s Goin’ Down South, Tia Gouttebel and Burnside trade vocals with ease. The droning sound of Gilles Chabenat’s hurdy gurdy adds a haunting ambience. A reading of Cedric Burnside’s own That Girl Is Bad kicks up the energy level. Guitars, percussion and hurdy gurdy all blend to create a sound that’s discordant but still grounded in North Mississippi’s trademark hypnotic groove. Sharde Thomas joins the band for a series of tracks recorded at Moon Hollow Farm. Her fife playing breathes life into a spirited rendition of Otha Turner’s Station Blues. While at Moon Hollow Farm, the band also recorded an intense performance of Junior Kimbrough’s Leave Her Alone. Cameron Kimbrough’s vocals drip with menace and paranoia, and his guitar licks add a dose of juke joint grit.

A pair of performances that feature Hypnotic Wheels unaccompanied by guest musicians demonstrates the band’s respect and devotion to Hill Country blues. The French musicians do justice to Jessie Mae Hemphill’s She Wolf and Fred McDowell’s Shake ’Em On Down. Tia Gouttebel is a standout —her voice has a natural depth and her guitar riffs seem to flow effortlessly. It’s great to hear a young group of European musicians exhibit such love and appreciation for traditional American music —Muddy Gurdy makes the sounds of North Mississippi fresh and exhilarating once again.

By Jon Kleinman. Read the review in the June-July, 2018, issue of Living Blues magazine.

In April-May Living Blues magazine radio chart

Muddy Gurdy, Hypnotic Wheel’s second album, made it to #13 in Living Blues magazine’s April-May 2018 radio chart!

“A real treasure” according to News Review

 

Oh, boy. Just when you start thinking you’ve heard everything, somebody comes out of left field —or in this case la rive gauche— with a new angle on an old and familiar format. French trio Hypnotic Wheels […] uses a hurdy-gurdy as a second guitar that’s linked their traditional French music to north Mississippi hill country blues.

What’s a hurdy-gurdy, you ask? Good question. The band’s PR describes it thusly: “a classic hand-cranked, stringed instrument which is a kind of string section in a box.”

For Muddy Gurdy, the band went to Mississippi and hooked up with some descendants of hill country blues legends. Cedric Burnside, R.L. Burnside’s grandson, delivers a rousing version of his elder’s “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line” and the Muddy Waters classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” Shardé Thomas sings and invokes the shade of her grandfather, Otha Turner, by playing fife on “Glory Glory Hallelujah” that’s made especially haunting by the hurdy-gurdy, which is the perfect instrument for these hypnotic, one-chord blues.

This CD is a real treasure of whose riches I can only mention a few.

By Miles Jordan. Read the full text on News Review

 

Muddy Gurdy wins prestigious Charles Cros award

French trio Hypnotic Wheels received the Charles Cros Academy Coup de Coeur award, on Wednesday, March 1, 2018, in the World Music Creations category, for Muddy Gurdy, their second album, released on February 2, 2018, by American label VizzTone. The ceremony was held during the Aah! Les Déferlantes! festival, in Portes-Lès-Valence, in the Drôme department in France.

Tia Gouttebel (guitar, vocals), Gilles Chabenat (hurdy gurdy), Marc Glomeau (percussion, background vocals) went to record the album in North Mississippi Hill Country and in the Delta during the Spring of 2017, accompanied by Pierre Bianchi (sound engineer). They invited prestigious musicians to discover the hurdy gurdy and play with them: Cedric Bunside, grandson of R.L. Burnside, Shardé Thomas, granddaughter of Otha Turner, Cameron Kimbrough, grandson of Junior Kimbrough, and Pat Thomas, son of James ‘Son’ Thomas.

The full palmares is on charlescros.org.

The Academy was created in 1947 in honor of Charles Cros (1842-1888), a self-taught inventor who was part of the pioneers in the world of the recording, who was also a poet, friend of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine.

The specialists at the Academy listen, all year long, to the new releases as soon as they come out. Once a year, sometimes twice, they select discs which, according to themn “particularly deserve to be brought to the attention of the public.” With this precision: “Excellence of interpretation, innovative works, forgotten repertoires, new interpreting talents, audacity or editorial courage… are all taken into account” for the Coups de Coeur.  These Coups de Coeur are automatically entered in the preselection of the discs submitted to the yearly Grands Prix (Grand Prize) Charles Cros, which have been presented since 1948.

Detailed story and in fRoots compilation

In the “Gurdy Up!” story, published in the 418th issue of fRoots Magazine, Cara Gibney tells how “three French musicians headed to the Mississippi hill country to record the remarkable Muddy Gurdy project.” 

She interviewed Marc Glomeau, the percussionist who initiated the project, Tia Gouttebel who brought her guitar playing, her singing, and her knowledge of the blues world, Gilles Chabenat, the hurdy gurdy player, and Pierre Bianchi, the sound engineer who traveled with the trio to record the sessions.

 

fRoots also picked one of Muddy Gurdy‘s songs to include in their free download compilation that goes with the Spring 2018 issue of the magazine. Glory Glory Hallelujah was recorded in the Spring of 2017 in Como, Mississippi, with special guest Shardé Thomas, granddaughter of Otha Turner, fife-and-drum-tradition extraordinaire.

“El sorprendente lanzamiento Muddy Gurdy”

 

[…] Similar línea de experimentación se encuentra el sorprendente lanzamiento “Muddy Gurdy”, que integra las músicas tradicionales francesa, por un lado y por otro, americana; llamada North Mississippi Hill Country blues.

El trío francés “Hypnotic Wheels” compuesto por Tia Gouttebel (voz y guitarra),Gilles Chabenat (hurdy-gurdy, o zanfona, que da medio título al projecto y disco) y Marco Glomeau (percusión); se embarcan en la aventura y deciden visitar las ciudades americanas del Norte del Mississippi y empaparse de estos sonidos. Para ello, se unen a los músicos locales que interpretan este estilo. Con entusiasmo, éstos participan junto al trío francés en las grabaciones, las cuales se realizaron a pie de campo en porches, casas de lugares visitados y monumentos, con métodos caseros de grabación, hecho que le proporciona más naturalidad y autenticidad.

Los músicos americanos son familia de prestigiosos intérpretes, y ellos mismos ya tienen su voz. Serán Cedric Burnside (nieto de R.L. Burnside), Shardé Thomas (nieta de Otha Turner), Cameron Kimbrough (nieto de Junior Kimbrough) Pat Thomas (hijo de James Son Thomas).

Cedric canta y toca la guitarra en “Goin’ Down South” de R.L. Burnside, le apoya en momentos la voz de Tia, la zanfona de Gillesmantiene el lamento y las percusiones de Marco mantienen lo hipnótico, Se aviva el ritmo en “That Girl is Bad” composición del propio Cedric. Continúa Cedric en la voz en “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line”, de corte similar a “Goin Down…” y en Rollin’ and Tumblin’ de Muddy Waters, con la zanfona haciendo replica a las guitarras de Tia y Cedric.

En “Station Blues” canta Shardé la canción de su abuela, tocando a su vez el fife, similar a un flautín, buen contrapunto de la zanfona. Interpreta también una composición suya “Shawty Blues” con la zanfona de fondo y el trémolo de la guitarra de Tia. Vuelve a cantar en la tradicional “Glory Glory Hallelujah” con más protagonismo del fife y el trío francés.

En la siguiente canción toma el protagonismo Cameron Kimbrough, su potente voz y su enérgica guitarra eléctrica en “Leave Her Alone” de su abuelo Junior y en “Gonna Love You”, composición propia.

Pat Thomas toma el testigo en la desgarradora balada suya “Dream” con el lamento de la zanfona de fondo.

Tia canta muy acertadamente la composición de Jessie Mae”She Wolf”, “Shake ‘Em on Down” de Mississippi Fred McDowell, y “Help the Poor” de Charles Singleton. En el Lp y Cd incluyen “Highway 61” como cierre.

Read the full story written by Fernando Hernández (in Spanish) on Off the Hook

Still growing in the charts

Look, look, look… There it is —again and again. Hypnotic Wheels’ Muddy Gurdy album stays in Roots Music Reports’ charts, up three places in the Blues album category, in the week of March 17.

The album rates 15, up one place, in the Contemporary Blues album category.

As for the songs, “Leave Her Alone”, which the trio recorded with Cameron Kimbrough last year in Mississippi, is still in the charts, at #23 (up from #42) in the Contemporary Blues songs category, at #47 in the overall Blues songs category.

“Great album” for Breakfast with the Blues

“I have been playing it for a while… great album!!” comments Steve Spoulos who DJs Breakfast with the Blues every Sunday morning on KRVM, the Eugene, Oregon, public radio.

On March 4, he picked She Wolf, performed by the Hypnotic Wheels trio on the Dockery Farms grounds in Cleveland, Mississippi. A place where the blues was born, according to the Blues Trail Marker placed there.

In January, he had picked Rollin’ and Tumblin’.

Listen to KRVM.

 

Follow Steve’s KRVM’s Breakfast With The Blues page on Facebook.

“A fascinating, enjoyable and idiomatic recording”

This intriguing recording brings together a French trio (Hypnotic Wheels) with several of the most prominent living players of Mississippi North Hill Country Blues.  […]

After a brief instrumental, we hear four field recordings with Cedric Burnside (and one can hear dogs barking in the background) as they launch into a mesmerizing treatment of RL Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South,” with Cedric and Tia alternating vocals with some spellbinding single note guitar runs against a drone musical background. After the performance ends Cedric talks about times with his brother Cody who died at 29 before going into “The Girl is Bad,” with its somewhat jerky groove and slashing slide guitar. This is followed by a high stepping “See My Jumper Hanging On the Line,” with the French trio adding their congenial, if unusual sound to this spirited performance of another RL Burnside song. Cedric further shows how well he continues in the manner of his father on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”

Shardé Thomas adds vocals and fife to a vibrant rendition of “Station Blues” (a retitled “Sitting on Top of the World,” with Glomeau providing the fife and drum band groove with Tia and Gilles adding their buzzing backing). It is followed by a haunting “Shawty Blues,”and the spiritual “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” Cameron Kimbrough then leads us on a lively rendition of “Leave Her Alone,” from his father Junior Kimbrough, set against the mesmerizing backing, while his own “Gonna Love You,” is a tough performance in a similar vein.

Pat Thomas’ “Dream” has a wistful quality while the hurdy gurdy of Chabenat provides a somber fiddle-like backing. It is followed by the trio’s own interpretations including a rendition of Jesse Mae Hemphill’s “She Wolf,” recorded at Dockery Farms, along renditions of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and B.B. King’s recording, “Help The Poor.” One wonders Jesse Mae Hemphill might have thought of her music influencing this French singer and guitarist, who does a more than simply capable job in singing and performing these. Pat Thomas, sounding like his father, James ‘Son’ Thomas, closes this album at the Highway 61 Museum (with traffic in the background) with a simple, stark and moving “Standing at the Crossroads/Dust My Broom” mashup, titled here “Highway 61.” 

While this won’t replace the classic recordings of Fred McDowell, RL Burnside, Jesse Mae Hemphill and Junior Kimbrough, the Hypnotic Wheels has produced a fascinating, enjoyable and idiomatic recording that pays homage to their musical influences. It presents the current practitioners of this tradition with emphatic backing that is so much more appropriate to the music than most efforts to modernize (or commercialize) this tradition. This is a recording that brings pleasure everytime I listen to it.

By Ron Weinstock, in one of his “semi-regular collection of observations, reviews and more about blues, jazz and other matters informed by the blues tradition.” Read the full review on In a Blue Mood.