This album was the first that Mississippi John Hurt recorded for Vanguard Records in the three years before his death from a heart attack in November 1966. It followed two other albums released on Piedmont Records in 1963 and 1964 that immediately followed his re-discovery by musicologist Tom Hoskins the former year. Hoskins had tracked him down to the small town of Avalon, Mississippi and, after assuring himself that he had actually found the right man, he tempted him back to performance and recording. John Hurt had recorded way back in the twenties for Okeh Records in Memphis and New York, but had then dropped out of the musical world, settling for a steady working life on farms in cotton fields and jobs on the river and the railroad. Still working the fields when found by Hoskins, John was a man who was satisfied with his lot, but was eventually persuaded to re-connect with the music industry with appearances at folk clubs, college campuses and even at the well-established Newport Folk Festival. Throughout it all his wife and family remained in Avalon while John's playing and singing were embraced by legions of new fans.
Though generally seen as a bluesman, John Hurt's music was in fact much wider than the normal parameters of the genre. His music certainly drew from blues standards, but also included religious songs, jazz influences, children's songs and a gentle mixture of many other strands he had picked up along the way. Vocally he was far from the well established harsh and care-worn delivery favoured by the majority of blues singers, but rather he sang with a quiet and charming delicacy that was not only beguiling but also made him instantly recognisable. His was a charming and warm personality that would immediately engage an audience, one that makes these recordings as accessible now to modern listeners in the twenty-first century as they did back in the 1960s.
His “Today!” album contained four tracks which are marked as public domain: ‘Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor’, ‘Corrina, Corrina’, ‘Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight’ and ‘Beulah Land’. These songs were common currency among blues and folk players, but with John's interpretations they became seen by many as his songs, especially the first of the four. The remaining eight songs here are indeed John's own, and provided rich pickings for the many artists who went on to cover his work. Standouts here include ‘Candy Man’, ‘Coffee Blues’ and ‘Spike Driver's Blues’, all of which are songs that continue to provoke interest and covers over the years. The last is a re-working of the John Henry story, and it is thought that ‘Coffee Blues’ provided the Lovin' Spoonful with their group name, while ‘Candy Man’ has seen a rich variety of covers.
This album is undoubtedly a historical landmark and as good an introduction to John Hurt's wonderful work as you could wish for. It is available via Ace in this form or in a 3CD set, and some of its tracks can be found on Mississippi John Hurt Rediscovered. However you get it though, you will be richly rewarded.