R.L. Burnside,
My Black Name A-Ringin'
(Adelphi/Genes Blues Vault, 1999)

You want authenticity, you got it. Here's another worthwhile release from the Blues Vault series, of a Mississippi sharecropper named R.L. Burnside. After the cotton harvest of 1969, Burnside traveled to Memphis to make these recordings for Adelphi Records, and the results are as stunning now as they were when the tracks were first recorded. This is down-home, acoustic music, a real gift to all of us who love delta blues. But be warned, there's not a whole lot of variety here. This is pure, deep delta style, and can be demanding on the listener. Also, most of these blues are played in only two keys, and the sound can get repetitious.

The first track, "Goin' Down South," strips blues lyrics down to their essentials. One of the verses is simply, "'Gwine / 'Gwine / Don't care where you go." You can't get more basic than that. Burnside's raw-boned voice is highly expressive, and the guitar work provides a solid underpinning. "Two Trains Runnin'" is another slow and mournful blues, with wailing harmonica work by Red Ramsey.

There's another great line in "Sat Down On My Bed and Cried": "Nightmare jumped on me and rode (rolled?) me all night long." Burnside's enunciation is weak, but the spirit is more than willing. The listener needs an alert ear with this CD -- Burnside isn't singing to entertain you, but to purge his demons. "Hobo Blues" is a real highlight, with a propulsive drive that never stops, laying down an undercurrent of activity beneath Burnside's singing. "My Black Name A-Ringin'" offer some interesting unison between the voice and the guitar lead, which gives the eerie impression of two voices.

The structure of "Catfish Blues" provides some needed variety, since its structure is different from that of the standard twelve-bar blues. "See My Jumper" offers another change of pace, with the accompaniment being almost non-melodic and non-chordal, pure percussion behind the voice. "Goin' Away Blues" is more of a jump blues than the others, bouncy and sprightly, with an actual fade-out at the end.

There's more here, a total of thirteen tracks, all worth repeated listening for the blues connoisseur. Burnside's guitar work is solid, as is Jesse Vortis on second guitar, and Ramsey's harmonica never falters. The documentation is a template for what great liner notes should be, and there are also photographs of Burnside and his family at work and play.

This is an immaculate blues release of another of the Blues Vault's many treasures. Keep 'em coming.

[ by Chet Williamson ]

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