Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment: ****
Sometimes, smaller forces make for a great recording. Here we have blues singer Scott Ainslie and his Gibson L-50 archtop acoustic guitar, bass added on one track, steel-string banjo on another. That is exceptionally minimal, yet this delightful disc has given me more enjoyment than all the loud ones I received recently.
Ainslie is a teacher and historian as well as a performer, and has devoted most of his life to researching the songs and style of Mississippi John Hurt. OKeh Records talent scouts discovered Hurt in the late ’20s and made a series of 78rpm recordings in Memphis. Based on sales, three Mississippi performers were invited to record at OKeh’s New York City studios. Hurt was one of them.
On The Last Shot Got Him, Ainslie performs six classic Hurt tunes: “The First Shot Missed Him,” “Avalon Blues,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” “Got the Blues, Can’t be Satisfied,” “Honey, Right Away,” and “Monday Morning Blues.” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me” has this memorable refrain: "When my earthly trials are over, carry my body out in the sea / Save all the undertaker’s bills, let the mermaids flirt with me."
The disc is filled out with songs by Robert Johnson, Reverend Gary Davis, Irving Berlin, Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington, Fats Waller, and Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen. The Wallace and Washington tune is “When I See an Elephant Fly” from Dumbo and it is given a very rousing and humorous performance, as is Davis’ “Sally Whiskey.” The disc closes with “Over the Rainbow,” which takes to the blues treatment surprisingly well.
Throughout the CD, Ainslie sings and plays with confidence and understanding. He is smart enough to know when to mug and when to let the words speak for themselves. He makes his musical journey fun and entertainment that is easy to like.
The recording is so natural you might think Ainslie has been imported into your listening room. Discs like this are a lot more valuable for evaluating new equipment than a thousand copies of Also Sprach Zarathustra. The fine print tells us “mixed with Julian McBrowne, mastered with Toby Mountain,” and they deserve a mention. And that 1934 Gibson, too; what a swell sound it makes. All of this is proof that you can still get world-class sound with the CD format.
You can preview the album on the artist's website and find out more about him and his instruments. You can find an example of Ainslie’s formidable slide guitar technique on “Come On in My Kitchen.”
. . . Rad Bennett