It’s August and there’s a good possibility you’ll find yourself outdoors late at night, howling at the moon and talking about the stuff of life that unfolds at 2am. For these nights, keep Mississippi John Hurt tucked in your back pocket.
He strides through each song with pre-dawn magic – his sound is earthy, relatable, singular and beautiful. It evokes the warm Americana of our collective memory and you feel at home with it instantly. But the purity of its form – a man and a guitar – belies its complexity. Hurt is a one man band. He percussively picks both bass line and counter-melody on his guitar, then floats his raspy, straightforward voice over the top with a wink and a chuckle. He rolls and chugs, train-like as he sings knowingly about sex, work, death and all the messy feelings that get tangled between.
Praise the music gods (or specifically music scholar Tom Hoskins) for seeking him out and putting his talents to wax in the last decade of his life. He easily could have been a footnote in American music, having cut just one obscure collection of songs in 1928, but his mid-century resurgence before his death in 1966 gave us a trove of rich country blues from this mild man who had spent his life as a laborer. The most extraordinary part of his story is that for the majority of his life, music was his hobby. Mississippi John Hurt is a reminder that there’s talent woven into every corner of this country and nearly 90 years on, his ruminations on the human condition are still so current and, in fact, so essential.