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Burnside Exploration

The Record

Ever since I was a baby critic, I've been hearing about how the blues was dying. Allegedly, it died when Wolf passed away, and then again when Muddy went to his maker, and then for a third time, when John Lee Hooker marched on. For every blues-playing so-and-so that left the stage, a litany of obits rang out about how it was a shame that there were no young black people who would come along and take the place of this master, et cetera, blah blah blah.

Invariably one or more of them does. This time it's the son and grandson of one such master, R.L. Burnside, who've given the lie to the "blues is dead" myth.

That is, if you can call all of what these guys play the blues. For one thing, a lot of this music comes down directly in a line from that of Mississippi Fred McDowell, whose hypnotic and driving guitar and repetitive vocal lines always seemed closer to African music than that of other bluesmen, even those, like Robert Johnson and Son House, who came from just a county or two away. I've always felt that what all the McDowell-influenced cats played could more accurately be described as primordial boogie, with one killer power riff played over and over until a counterpoint comes careening in at an off-kilter angle, just when you least expect it. The guitars may sound out of tune, or they might just be playing rotgut-moonshine scales. Who cares? But if the band has a drummer, this music demands that he bash the fuck out of his traps and cymbals.

Burnside Exploration does have a drummer, R.L.'s grandson Cedric, and he does indeed knock the snot out of his kit. Meanwhile, R.L.'s son Garry dishes out the distorted riffage and weird wa-wa effects on guitar, and on the grunged-out remakes of Mississippi Hill Country classics like "Long Haired Doney," "All Night Long" and "You Don't Love Me," as well as the hip-hop-influenced original "Bitch You Lie," the always trippy style sounds more psychedelic than ever. (As for the cover of "Knocking on Heaven's Door": What's a nice song like that doing in a rough joint like this?)

Sure, neither of the younger Burnsides can sing as well as their ancestor, but in this style of Mississippi music, the vocals have always been on the back burner anyway, and their voices are mixed low. Singing isn't what this album is about. The primordial boogie is not exactly music to dance to, but it's close: This is music to stomp, howl and guzzle 100-proof straight out of the bottle to. Make sure you don't play this album on a school night.

 
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