Mississippi Records is more than a label. It’s really an endless, massive mix tape put together, one LP at a time, by label founder Eric Isaacson. And in that spirit, it’s hard to pin down exactly what will come next. Nutso philosophers on chimes? Schoolchildren singing about James Brown? Punk rockers or former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck? There’s all of that and more, which is why you should consider subscribing to the Mississippi CSR, or community supported record program. (Just remember, Isaacson only takes cash or check.) But if you can own only five of the label’s releases, here’s a very subjective list.
Nervous Sooner Changes
I had never heard of this Portland band before, but now I can’t stop listening. It’s in the spirit of the ragged, glorious punkcore emerging in the ’90s from better-known groups like Guided by Voices and (early) Sebadoh. Fred Cole sings lead on most of the songs, but wife Toody’s “I Won’t Be the One” is a heartbreaker on this record, originally released in 1995.
Bob Dylan had his basement tapes. Hurley, the outsider folkie making records since 1965, has his bedroom tapes. It must have been a big bedroom, because “Armchair Boogie,” recorded in 1969, features fiddle, piano, guitar, bass, drums, yodels and everything from talking blues and English folk to an almost pop song. What’s more, you get Hurley’s comic book, “Boone & Jocko in the Barren, Choking Land.”
Last Kind Words (1926-1953)
“Last Kind Words” is named for the Geechie Wiley opener. It’s a haunting song that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it, when R. Crumb popped a 78 onto his record player in Terry Zwigoff’s excellent 1994 documentary. Other highlights: The Anglin Brothers singing high harmonies over an echo’d guitar and Robert Petway, the mystery man who recorded only 16 songs, performing “Catfish Blues,” so driving and electrifying Muddy Waters adopted it for his own “Rollin’ Stone.”
The Sounds of S.E. Rogie
Sometimes, Rogie talks. Sometimes, he jams over hand claps. Sometimes, he sings a lullaby. This compilation covers the 1960s for the late singer/guitarist from Sierra Leone. “Twist With the Morningstars” and “Do Me Justice” are about the most joyous dance tunes you’ll ever hear.
Nancy Dupree and a group of Rochester, N.Y., Youngsters
The best version of “Desperado” wasn’t sung by Don Henley. It was performed 40 years ago by a 9-year-old girl named Sheila Behman with a group of school kids in Canada for “The Langley Schools Music Project.” That same spirit drives “Ghetto Reality,” a project devised by then-schoolteacher Nancy Dupree. Dupree’s story is tragic — she was apparently fired not long after this recording and died of leukemia in 1980 — but this record is not. “I have a voice, and I can sing,” a young boy, presumably one of her students, sings over a piano at one point. “Beethoven was my brother just like B.B. King.”