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Various Artists: Como Now: The Voices Of Panola Co., Mississippi

Various Artists: Como Now: The Voices Of Panola Co., Mississippi

Release Date:2008
Genre:Traditional folk

By Mike McGonigal | Posted 9/24/2008

Though it currently has a population of just about 1,300, Como, Miss., holds a large place in music history. Blues greats such as the amazing Hemphill family and Junior Kimbrough lived very close, up in the Mississippi hill country that lies between the Tennessee border and the Delta. The most well-known denizen of Como proper was Fred McDowell, arguably the last brilliant Delta blues musician. He was discovered by ethnographer Alan Lomax on his big trip South in 1957, collecting what would become the brilliant Sounds of the South series for Atlantic. Today McDowell is best remembered for his stirring arrangement of the sanctified blues number "You Got to Move," which some skinny British people later recorded. But in 1966, McDowell recorded in a small chapel with his wife and other singers from their choir the album Amazing Grace, a flawless work of gospel blues.

Thirty-two years later, retro-soul label Daptone put an ad in a local newspaper in Como, inviting local singers to come to a church there to cut a series of traditional a cappella spiritual numbers. It wasn't recorded in the very same church, but the Daptone crew showed exceptional smarts in setting up shop here. And these unknown singers who showed up are all exceptional. It would be tremendous to hear full-lengths from each of them, especially the John Edwards Singers and most extra especially the unnamed duo of Della Daniels and Esther Mae Smith. The material reaches back to slave-era spirituals and on up to songs associated with gospel's "Golden Age" of some 50 to 60 years ago.

All of it feels incredibly alive and vital here, in these sparse and moving renditions. It's so wonderful that any marginally commercial record label is willing to make "field" recording such as this today. Como Now shows that the spirit of gospel--which is both the heart and soul of contemporary music--is incredibly strong.

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