These seventeen recordings originate from the summer of 1966, a few scant months before Mississippi John Hurt's death in November of that year, although they were not released by Vanguard Records until 1972. The likely cause was that the company already had his “Today!” album released, and what was to become “The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt” album ready to go. Both of these two fine albums are available on this website.
The material chosen for John's final sessions was even more varied than previously, though all were delivered in his distinctive, attractive and instantly recognisable style with his finger-picking guitar playing and warm friendly singing drawing listeners in. He opens with Bukka White's ‘Poor Boy, Long Ways From Home’, a notion that John would have responded to as he travelled the country in his final years far from his family and home in Avalon, Mississippi. The second track, ‘Boys You're Welcome’, lives up to its title, and could have made an obvious opener. Next come the story songs of ‘Joe Turner Blues’ and ‘First Shot Missed Him’, the attractive ‘Farther Along’, and ‘Funky Butt’ and ‘Spider, Spider’ which have more of the feel of snippets. Patrick Sky, the album's producer, joins on second guitar for ‘Waiting For You’ and ‘Good Morning, Carrie’, reprising a role he had for two tracks on “The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt” and helping to enrich the guitar sounds behind the vocal. ‘Trouble, I've Had It All My Days’ and ‘Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me’ are both fully-formed gentle Hurt songs that add substantially to his rich catalogue.
Whilst there are many tracks here that would have fitted well on either of the two preceding Vanguard albums, there are also some that have a less polished feel to them. The small print tells us that while some of the songs were recorded at Vanguard's 23rd St studio in New York, some were recorded at the Manhattan Towers Hotel. We can only speculate why this might have been, but it does indicate a probable cause for a slightly different feel on some of the inclusions. To the hardcore fan such inclusions only make the package more attractive as they fall within the realms of outtakes and demos in more modern parlance. The track details do not differentiate, leaving it to the listener to either make their own mind up or perhaps to not worry either way and let John's relaxed and easy delivery wash over them. For most this will be the correct approach.
The ordering of the tracks is significant, as the final two are ‘You've Got To Die’ and Leadbelly's ‘Goodnight Irene’. John was well known to be a god-fearing man who apparently always said his prayers in extended detail, and his general advice to those around him was to be prepared to face a final reckoning. He took his own advice, and lived his life accordingly. Placing someone else's song at the end reminds us that he was a musician of his time, always with an ear to the work of others, and in the case of the famous Leadbelly song he introduces it as a wonderful song that he learnt from the record. As with all his own material, he makes a fine fist of it.