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The late Joe Callicott was more a songster than a typical North Mississippi bluesman, eschewing the slide-and-drone-guitar approach for a picking style built on arpeggios and thumb-plucked bass notes that served his songs. These recordings, made in 1967 by musicologist George Mitchell, show off Callicott’s originality. Even his one-chord stomps, like "Roll and Tumble," seem to spring along at their own distinctive, hopping cadence — always unhurried, riding gently on his well-articulated notes. And his rich-toned voice has more clarity, drive, and diction than those of his peers.
Although Callicott was a neighbor of fife-and-drum bandleader Othar Turner and lived just a few more miles from Fred McDowell, neither seems to have influenced him in the least. In turn, his style has not endured in the hills below Memphis with one exception: Fat Possum solo artist and R.L. Burnside sideman Kenny Brown, who was learning at Callicott’s knees by the age of 10. Callicott’s version of "Laughing To Keep from Crying," with its bright, circular licks, is a blueprint for Brown’s. (Check Brown’s new CD, Stingray.) The only comparison this exceptional storyteller begs is with Skip James when he floats up into his falsetto range on the threatening "You Don’t Know My Mind," which his sweet voice somehow makes sound angelic. Since this is the first time Callicott’s music has been issued on CD, Ain’t a Gonna Lie to You is essential listening for any deep-blues fan.
Issue Date: September 12 - 18, 2003
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