R.L. Burnside's rise to fame has been anything but an overnight success. Born in 1926, in Oxford, MS, Burnside, known by close friends and family as "Rule," started playing guitar while in his mid-20's. Influenced by the recordings of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, among others, as well as by his neighbor, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Burnside cut his first tracks in 1967, and two of those tracks appear here. Since then, he's managed some excellent studio excursions, European tours, and a lengthy cameo in Robert Palmer's film, "Deep Blues." The balance of this set (originally on vinyl from the Swingmaster label), from 1980 and '82, serves up an additional 17 titles with close to an hour of playing time.
The myriad styles of blues in Mississippi vary as much as the landscape itself... Delta Blues, as played by Son House, Charley Patton, and others, is a raw and slashing form, with buzzing slide guitar and impassioned vocals. Other purveyors of Mississippi Blues were Skip James, who defies accurate labeling to this day, Mississippi John Hurt, who played and sang with a laid-back approach, and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, who retained true Mississippi flavor even though he lived in Chicago for decades. The title of this disc gives definition to R.L. Burnside's style; one so influential, it caused Buddy Guy (though I'd opt for 'suits in the office' decision making) to attempt cashing in on the success of Burnside and the Fat Possum label, keeping in mind that the word 'success' is used if only to show the recognition Burnside, and his localized style, has garnered in recent years. R.L. is still hard-pressed financially, and with his humble abode recently destroyed by fire, the situation doesn't seem to be getting much better
Burnside shows a strong affinity for the driving rhythms of Mississippi and Chicago, plus a powerful vocal approach, all added to his proficient skills as a guitarist. From the repetitive figures of "House Up On The Hill," to the resounding vocals on "Don't Care How Long You're Gone," which is actually 'Trouble No More,' and the time-honored "Rolling And Tumbling," with Red Ramsey's plaintive harp accents, Burnside concocts a highly original approach, while staying close to traditional themes. "Poor Boy" should be easily recognized, and"Crying Won't Make Me Stay" is based on floating verses that appeared decades ago with the work of Robert Petway and Muddy's sidekick, Jimmy Rogers, while "Long Haired Doney," a favorite of Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, finds Burnside in tremendous form with his crisp guitar patterns finishing vocal lines with ease. The driving "Jumper On The Line" alone makes this a worthwhile purchase, and the remainder of the tracks are all distinct comments from a muscular, and now, elder statesman of blues.
There is no question that R.L. Burnside is a force to be reckoned with, and while disappointing that it so long for him to rise from the hill country of Mississippi to national and international prominence, the term 'better late than never' hasn't been quite so appropriate in a while. Other recordings place Burnside in various settings; from the thrash-like backing of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on "A Ass Pocket O' Whiskey," to his own "Sound Machine Groove," where family members tow the line, but "Mississippi Hill Country Blues," with stellar sonics and gritty performances, stands tall with R.L. Burnside as the main focus. Truly an exceptional slice of work in a steadily growing catalog. Go to: www.fatpossum.com for more information.
You can now order other CDs, books, and videos from Blues On Stage in association with Amazon.com. Simply click on the logo at the left and shop! They have some of the best prices on the web and even offer some used product at lower prices.
This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.