Like it or not, through sheer tenacity and Teflon skin, Fat Possum has been a catalyst in creating a new branch of twenty-first century blues.
Blues purists may fume and blues rockers may howl, but a new style of blues has arrived and it has begun to grow a branch of it's own. Those who find offense mustn't fret; the other branches of the blues tree are still intact and still available to assuage your rise in blood pressure. (For instance,
Fat Possum's latest Robert Belfour CD..)
At the forefront of this new style is one of the blue's elder statesmen, R.L. Burnside. After shocking the blues world by adding modern electronic sounds and techniques to "Come On In," R.L., has toned them down, and reined them in a bit for his follow-up, "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down."
Now, if you want to continue to hang on to the thought of hearing a whole CD of R.L.'s early music or his present day live music, you're probably going to be disappointed with "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down." If, on the other hand, you are open to old, new, and newer, there are several
different styles of blues represented on this album. In a pair of highlights, Kenny Brown plays a ferocious slide on the title cut, (which is just R.L.'s voice and Kenny's guitar) and John Porter, (who is also one of the producers.) does a great job playing multiple instruments on "My Eye's Keep Me In Trouble." (Which is R.L.'s rewritten version of a Herbert Walker tune and played in a fast paced mandolin style of blues.)
A couple of eerie story telling blues bracket R.L.'s portion* of the CD. In "Hard Time Killin' Floor" and "R.L.'s Story," he speaks of the murders of his two uncles, his two brothers, (who were killed on the same day) and the vicious unsolved murder and robbery of his father. The evidence of his pain and the blues that come with it are carried on the strength of his emotive voice and feature a haunting slide guitar. (*There are bonus cuts at the end of the CD from Robert Belfour, Paul Jones, and Kenny Brown.)
When I first noticed "Chain, Chain, Chain" listed on the CD, I was dubious at best. I love Aretha but you should try to forget her version for the time being when you listen to this one. If you want to rock, crank it up. With good dynamics in the turnarounds, the guitars (Smokey Hormel, Rick
Holmstrom) play a "less is more" boogie with a nasty Tom Waits type sound and the band plays in a hard hitting blues style with some turntable action (DJ Swamp) and howling harmonica (Lynwood Slim) thrown in. "See What My Buddy Done" is a straight up rough blues with a tough guitar sound and "Too Many Ups," and "Nothin' Man," show a lighter side of Mr. Burnside.
"Miss Maybelle" starts out like it is going to be in an older style of blues. Then a wall of cacophonous electronica slams into you before R.L.'s voice tames the bedlam for a while until he says, "Let me be your hoppin' frog," and the chaotic wall is unleashed to slam into your psyche again. Be careful here, listen with an open mind and the turbulent breaks may actually become stuck in your head, although the turntable duck squawks get to be a bit much.
"Got Messed Up," written by Andy Kaulkin (who is also a producer) is another different sound for Mr. Burnside that is closer to the first and last songs. A slow song, R.L.'s voice drips with emotion and a full sounding harp played by Johnny Dyer trails him and accentuates the aura created by the song. At one particular point, the atmosphere of the ethereal slide guitar almost has
a Robbie Krieger feel to it.
Probably my least favorite song on the CD is a completely re-recorded version of "Bad Luck City," but to be fair, I was never big on the either the song or much of the CD by the same name.
R.L. Burnside's latest CD, "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down," is the latest in a new branch of twenty-first century blues brought to us by Fat Possum. While it is still easy to distinguish on most of the songs, much of the turntable scratching and programmed loops are further back in the mix
than on "Come On In," making them sound more like a modern rhythm instrument and less like a bothersome noisemaker. The result is a CD that is easier for the regular blues fan to understand while still maintaining the presence of a style that pushes the boundaries of the blues into the twenty-first century. R.L.'s voice is plaintive, emotional, and strong. The guitar and rhythm work is excellent and the sound quality is great.
If you are looking for a CD of R.L.'s acoustic or touring band's style of blues, you will probably be disappointed with much of "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down." If you are open to hearing a twenty-first century style of blues but "Come On In" was too looped and over programmed for your taste, reserve a place in your CD changer for "Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down."
Fat Possum Records LLC, Manufactured and distributed by Epitaph
Fat Possum Records, P.O. Box 1923, Oxford, MS. 38655
This review is copyright © 2000 by Stephen T. Davidson, and Blues On Stage, 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.
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