In the intensely fickle proving ground of the music business probability of success routinely defies prognostication. This is particularly true in the realms of niche genres such as blues. A musician can struggle and toil for decades before lightning strikes thrusting him or her into the pale and often fleeting limelight that is public adulation. Bluesman R.L. Burnside is currently riding out his run near the head of pack, but it was a long and perambulating trek to the top. With the fueling agent of an opportune recording contract with Fat Possum, a label plugged directly in to the crossover markets of post-punk and alternative country, Burnside turned a listing career into lucrative enterprise. But unlike many of his flash-in-the-pan contemporaries, he has both the clout and authenticity to back up his standing as the genuine article
Fortunately for his growing legions of fans there were folks in attendance during his thankless years with the motivation and means to document what they heard. For vintage material of this disc thanks is due mainly to the fortitude and diligence of Robert Evans, educator at the University of Memphis and blues performer in his own right. Not coincidentally a similar set of music ( Bad Luck City, now woefully out of circulation) served as Burnside’s debut on Fat Possum. While there’s no love lost between Evans and current Burnside curator Matthew Johnson, of Fat Possum, both men share the common ground of respect and deference to their North Mississippi liege.
Prior to achieving visibility in the perpetually myopic public eye Burnside fronted a juke joint band comprised almost completely of familial constituents in and around his stomping grounds of Independence, Mississippi. Reasons for the membership specifics were as simple as economics and geography and the band, operating under the stripped down moniker The Sound Machine, was a patriarchal personification of Burnside’s charismatic musical stature in the region. To borrow from the popular and to the point Fat Possum credo the music they played was “Not Your Typical Blues Crap.” Coarse and stark in their structures and designed first and foremost for the kind of dancing not dissuaded by the drunken debilitated sway most cuts build from the rudiments of shuffle beats and hot stinging fretwork. Instrumental cuts like raggedy “Slippin’ and Slidin” and seething “You Don’t Love Me” intersperse the vocal numbers with the express purpose of recreating a typical Sound Machine set.
Burnside’s laconic vocals alternately bark and drawl the lyrics and many are cherry-picked from the repertoire he still exercises today. He puts the saddle on stooped warhorses such as “Dust My Broom” and “Rolling and Tumbling,” but also touching on his own coruscating variations of familiar themes of love lost, infidelity and death. Despite their advanced ages none seem the least bit atrophied. Retooled under Burnside’s brusque, cocksure delivery and the busking stick work of drummers Jackson and son Duwayne the almighty boogie is sustained. Nowhere is this more elementally evident than on the cautionary tale “Leave Me and My Woman Alone” where fuzz tone guitar and tumbling traps hammer out an aural warning sure to chill the motives of even the boldest back-door man.
Inside Sounds on the web: http://www.insidesounds.com
Personnel: R.L. Burnside- vocals & guitar; Joseph Burnside- guitar; Daniel Burnside- guitar; Calvin Jackson- drums; Duwayne Burnside- drums; Robert Avant- vocal & guitar. Recorded: various locations & dates throughout 1979 & 1980.