This live CD is one of several fine compilations of John Hurt's work that remain available from Ace Records. Foremost among these is the 3CD set of “The Complete Studio Recordings” that collects the three albums “Today”, “The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt” and “Last Sessions”, all three of which also remain on catalogue as separate entities. The live set that was recorded at Ohio's Oberlin College in April 1965 works as a fine companion issue to the studio work, as it shows distinctly the easy and friendly rapport that he enjoyed with his audiences.
Along with Son House and Skip James, John Hurt was one of the twenties and thirties blues musicians who had been re-discovered by fans in the sixties, often using the Newport Folk Festival as the initial outlet to re-introduce their talents to new fans. John's repertoire was much wider than some blues musicians as his music encompassed gospel, folk ballads, children's songs and even jazz, all accompanied by his finger picking guitar playing. The religious songs here include the opener ‘Here I Am’, ‘Oh Lord, Send Me’ that he introduces as ‘Don't You Hear My Saviour Calling’, and this is immediately followed by ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’ and ‘Nearer My God To Thee’. He goes on to play several traditional favourites during the concert, including ‘It Ain't Nobody's Business’, the melodically strong ‘Make Me A Pallet On The Floor’ and his closing song ‘You Are My Sunshine’. However, it is arguably his own songs that really stand out here, with Coffee Blues and Monday Morning Blues more than satisfying genre enthusiasts and ‘Candy Man’, ‘CC Rider’, ‘Sliding Delta’, ‘Stagolee’ and ‘My Creole Belle’ all showing how his songs were ripe for wider musical interpretations. He even slips in a short instrumental with Spanish Fandango and the even shorter simple children's song ‘Chicken’ that evokes happy audience reaction. John's introductions are short, usually consisting of the upcoming song's title, but he does invite a fuller audience participation for the closing track ‘You Are My Sunshine’, and he does get it along with thunderous applause at its end.
John Hurt's engaging and gentle personality comes across strongly during this live recording, partly due to the warmth of his voice and his ability to engage his audience directly and intimately. He proved to be a very strong influence on many artists well beyond his death in November 1966. He had enjoyed only three years or so of his new found fame, but by then artists like Taj Mahal had picked him up as a major influence. It was also a testament to his talents that a 2001 tribute album “Avalon Blues” attracted so many big rock and folk names to record tracks linked to his name. The title reflected that it was in Avalon, a tiny Mississippi town, where he was re-discovered as a poor but contented farmer. ‘Avalon, My Home Town’ remained in his live set, and is aptly included here as a key song for a gentle and happy man.