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Music Review: Various Artists: Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks

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Even the name of this group is interesting. The name the Mississippi Sheiks was coined by members of the group as a playful double meaning. Mississippi is where they came from, but in the parlance of the day, a “sheik” was a man out “lookin’ for some tush,” as ZZ Top would say. [This meaning of the name ‘sheik’ was originally attributed to film star Rudolph Valentino, who starred in The Sheik, a silent film smash from 1921.] The Sheiks wanted it known that they were adventurous in both mind and body, and their music reflected it to some degree.

The Sheiks were one of the most popular musical groups in existence in the US at the height of their fame, touring heavily in the South and extensively in the North, too. Three of the group’s members were named Chatmon, a name that is legendary in musicians from the era, what’s referred to as Country Blues, or Prewar Blues, indicating the period from the beginning of the 20th century until around 1940. The Sheiks recorded for three different major companies and were even invited by the President of the US at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, to play for him. Quite an accomplishment for Southern sharecroppers turned musicians.

The group went on to record some 70 original tunes, including one of the most recorded ever, “Sittin’ On Top of the World,” with performances by Ray Charles, the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Chet Atkins, Bob Wills, Doc Watson, Carl Perkins, Big Bill Broonzy and Willie Nelson. Their lyrics were highly appealing to a broad cross-section of America, with references to religion as well as some which were laced with sexual word play.

Things About Comin’ My Way brings together a far-reaching group of performers including The North Mississippi Allstars, Ndidi Onukwulu, John Hammond, Bruce Cockburn, Oh Susanna, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Danny Barnes, Jim Byrnes, Bill Frisell, Madeleine Peyroux, Kelly Joe Phelps, Steve Dawson (who also is the originator of the disc), Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks, Del Rey, Bob Brozman, The Sojourners, and Robin Holcomb.

All of the tunes are Sheiks’ originals, although some may not be instantly recognizable. In fact, they may not be recognizable at all! Some of these covers are so far removed from what the Sheiks originally penned that they could be from another planet. But don’t let put you off. The worst I can say of any of them is that they’re good, and they run the gamut all the way up to superb.

It doesn’t make any never mind if you’re an old-time music buff or a hiphopper – you’ll find something to tap your feet to on this CD.

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About Lou Novacheck