devil down records

Little Joe Ayres decided to become a musician after noticing the enthusiasm that Marshall County, Mississippi residents had for bluesmen like Louis Boga and Junior Kimbrough. After teaching himself to play the guitar, Ayres began to learn from Kimbrough, and ended up becoming a member of Kimbrough’s band, the Soul Blues Boys. After many years of performing as a sideman and a solo artist, Little Joe Ayres has released his debut album Backatchya, a welcome collection of Kimbrough standards, hill country standards, and other familiar blues tunes that are adapted to the unique hill country style. Like all Devil Down Records releases, the album captures both a moment in time and a unique sense of place. Ayres’ guitar and vocals, as well as his spoken comments, were captured not in a recording studio, but on the front porch of fellow hill country bluesman Kenny Brown’s home. The resulting album has an intimacy that makes the listener feel as if he has spent a day with Little Joe Ayres rather than just listening to a record. Backatchya is a welcome documentation of one of Mississippi’s living blues legends, and is hopefully the first of many albums to come.

The North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic is an annual two-day outdoor concert at which most if not all of the living hill country blues performers appear, as well as many younger artists from the hill country of Mississippi, many of whom play styles of music influenced heavily by the hill country tradition. But unfortunately, not everyone has the time or money to travel to Marshall County, Mississippi in June for the picnic, so it is fortunate that Devil Down Records has issued a North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic Volume 2 sampler, which amounts to an aural record of the 2010 picnic. There is gospel here by artists like Rev. John Wilkins and Duff Dorough. There is music on the thin line between alternative rock and country, such as “Little Hand, Big Gun” by Jimbo Mathus, or “Midnight in Mississippi” by Blue Mountain. There are aggressive, rock-influenced readings of hill country blues by artists such as Eric Deaton, Duwayne Burnside, Hill Country Revue and North Mississippi All Stars, and there are traditional blues performances by Alvin “Youngblood” Hart, T-Model Ford and Robert Belfour. Of course, no recording can perfectly capture the thrill of being present at such a history-making concert, but this sampler satisfies with consistently-good music throughout. A hidden final track is R. L. Burnside telling a joke from many years ago, like a reminder of his spiritual presence giving approval to the picnic, and this recording.