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R.L. Burnside - Ass Pocket of Whiskey (1996)

Amerykański kompozytor, autor tekstów i wykonawca R. L. Burnside jest przedstawicielem starej szkoły bluesa z Missisipi. Burnside był również głową licznej rodziny - 12 dzieci i 25 wnucząt. R. L. Burnside, zaczął grać na gitarze i śpiewać na początku lat czterdziestych, w wieku 16 lat. Minęło jednak sporo czasu, zanim jego nazwisko stało się znane wśród fanów bluesa z całego świata. Jego pierwsza płyta została wydana w 1967 roku. Dzięki niej mógł grać na festiwalach i dawać koncerty. W latach siedemdziesiątych i osiemdziesiątych występował wraz z zespołem, w którym grali dwaj jego synowie i zięć. Choć na lokalnej scenie muzycznej Burnside należał do gwiazd, to jego muzyka wciąż pozostawiał niemal zupełnie nieznana poza granicami stanu. Przełomowym momentem w karierze była płyta wydana na początku lat dziewięćdziesiątych. To wydarzenie stało się początkiem pasma sukcesów w karierze bluesmena z Missisipi.

Burnside urodził się w 21 listopada 1926 roku w Harmontown w stanie Mississipi. Już w latach swojej młodości słuchał takich bluesmanów jak Fred McDowell czy Joe Cellicott, a wieku kilkunastu lat sam zaczął grać. Artysta dochodził do sławy stopniowo, a w latach 70. jego koncerty można już było oglądać w Europie. Prawdziwą sławę Burnside zyskał w latach 90. Wtedy to nagrał pierwsze dwa albumy dla Fat Possum: "Bad Luck City" w 1993 roku i "Too Bad Jim" rok później. Ich produkcją zajął się Robert Palmer. Po przejściu operacji serca w 1999 roku Burnside rzadko występował na żywo. Zmarł w wieku 78 lat w szpitalu w Memphis. Nie ustalono dokładnej przyczyny zgonu.

Jumper on the Line

R.L Burnside was born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1926 and lived most of his life in the hill country above the Delta. He learned to play guitar from a neighbor, and by a great stroke of luck that neighbor was the great Delta Blues musician Mississippi Fred MacDowell. From MacDowell, Burnside inherited that driving, rhythmic, almost rudimentary one-chord style that distinguishes much of the blues from that region.

However, like most people who play the guitar, Burnside kept his day job. He worked as a farmer and a fisherman, occasionally playing local juke joints or recording a side. It was only in the 1980s that his star began to rise as he played a few European festivals. Subsequently signed to the good people at Fat Possum, Burnside spent the rest of his life releasing a series of outstanding albums that updated his ramshackle Delta style with modern production touches.

In 1996, Burnside recorded an album with indie-rock huckster Jon Spencer titled A Ass Pocket Full of Whiskey which effectively married Burnside's blues sound to the Blues Explosion's chaos and noise. This album catapulted him from relative obscurity to (at least) cult status, and with his third album for the Fat Possum label, 1998's Come On In, his career really hit its stride.

Hill Stomp Hollar (movie trailer)

Produced by a fleet of young white hipsters including a member of Atari Teenage Riot, Come On In meshed the Delta blues with electronic and dub sounds with surprising results. Burnside's signature heavy-footed style, reminiscent of other Delta players like Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker, works surprisingly well alongside looped drums, snippets of distorted clavinet, and bass-heavy dub production. Although critics differ on the merits of this album, it is one of my all time favorites in any genre.

Over the course of his subsequent albums for Fat Possum, Burnside would continue in this vein, alternating down-and-dirty blues with experimental tracks. The two I own, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down and Well, Well, Well are equally good but very different. Heaven is essentially a Delta blues recording with some electronic production that at times sounds tacked on but for the most part only supports Burnsides' mile-deep songs. Less driving than Come On In, Heaven engages an atmospheric side at times that is unlike any other blues record I have heard.

Well, Well, Well, on the other hand, collects recordings from as far back as 1986 and includes a great cover of the murder ballad "Stagolee" as well as Lightnin' Hopkins' "Mojo Hand" and Howlin Wolf's "How Many More Years." Although arguably a grab bag of odds and ends, the album hangs together nicely thanks to the strength of Burnsides' repetitive, hypnotic slide guitar work and haunted vocals.

In 2003, Fat Possum put together a collection called Early Recordings, a group of solo recordings made in 1967 and '68 when Burnside was farming. A couple of his best songs that would turn up later on his 1990s albums appear here: "Goin' Down South," and "Come On In" in particular. It is fascinating to hear Burnside in his 'natural' element, unsurrounded by a band, drum loops or studio shine: to wit, he sounds exactly the same. Better yet, Early Recordings contains a number of excellent Delta Blues songs that never turned up on his later "official" albums, making it an essential for, well, everyone.

If you are a casual blues fan, but don't know Burnsides' work, I would recommend starting with Come On In or Early Recordings. The latter is a less out-there starting place - if that's your taste - but if you miss out on his experimental stuff you are doing yourself no favors. I also hear very good things about his second Fat Possum album, 1994's Too Bad Jim. A Ass Pocket Of Whiskey is good too, but probably not the best place to start unless you like your Delta Blues with a side of theremin. Also, many songs appear on both Come On In and Ass Pocket, making only one of them (take yr pick!) truly essential for casual shoppers.

Fat Possum deserve a lot of credit for keeping R.L. Burnside's flame burning. They are a great label, dedicated to the artists on their roster to the point of practically parenting them when necessary. In fact, as far as I know, Burnside was able to live off his music income for the last years of his life, a rare blessing especially for an old Delta farmer. Besides Burnside, Fat Possum have revived or started the careers of Junior Kimbrough (whose juke joint is next door to the Burnside residence), Asie Payton, wierdo T-Model Ford, insane wierdo cracker Hasil Adkins, and insane wierdo cracker freakshow Bob Log III, and Akron, Ohio duo The Black Keys, all of whom are worth a listen.

Come On In (poor quality)

R.L. Burnside was a member of a dying breed of musicians from rural Mississippi who played a music that belonged to an age that fades a bit more every day. That's not to say that he is or was ever a museum piece, but rather he is an emissary from Greil Marcus' "old, weird America," the place where William Faulkner, Johnny Cash, and John Lee Hooker drink together and tell stories.

I hope he is in heaven sitting down. (John Owen)

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