Published on September 18th, 2012 | by TLV News1
Record Of The Issue: R.L. Burnside’s “Too Bad Jim”
music review by Hugh Jones – from The Local Voice #164
R.L. Burnside’s dog Buck was killed in a drive by shooting in late August 1993, just as his record Too Bad Jim, was being released.
The fella behind the counter at The End of All Music, and the editor of this very paper, were kind enough to introduce me to Too Bad Jim Sunday afternoon. Though the store has an international selection, I wanted some local flair. What I got was the second Fat Possum release of a man I once thought I was very familiar with.
Cruising across the country from Idaho last month, I listened to several R.L. Burnside songs on repeat. I was excited to be moving to the home of the hill country blues. I wanted to be in the homeland of that isolated group of musicians who toy with ear canals in such a way that a body’s whole being is forced to comply with their idea of rhythm.
Turns out I knew nothing. Vinyl, heat, humidity, and a good pair of dancing shoes change the context. This is not just “music,” nor is it the auditory incarnation of some spandex panted, hung-over, teenage cry baby (like most top hits of the last 30 years).
Too Bad Jim is the soul of a man no pseudo-journalist hack like me could begin to bring to life on paper. I’m a fool for attempting this column, and for my trespasses I apologize.
There is only one medium for R.L. Burnside; the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues.
Caveats aside, let’s get back to The End of All Music.
“This one is filthy,” fella said.
I picked up a purple album from the Fat Possum shelf, and started reading. On the back of the cover, Robert Palmer claims to have seen R.L. Burnside wave a pistol around in a crowded juke joint, just to see the place boil over. Palmer spoke of an old man who was inspired by chaos, muttering about serving the devil and playing the guitar like it was his subordinate.
When a glass door fell off its hinges and through a producer’s head, “for no good reason,” Palmer said R.L. was inspired to record.
I couldn’t resist, this was the album for me. That night my northerner’s courtship with the hill country blues was consummated. I was reborn a virgin, and immediately deflowered.
Lesson one; do not attempt to sit down while listening to Burnside.
The Mississippi Hill Country blues are not their better known counterparts in the Mississippi Delta. A single beat will often work its way through the entire song, relying on intricate drumming, phrasing and the kind of filthy unconventional musicianship that turns a three chord song into something far more potent than simple punk rock. Each lick oozes with R.L.’s personality, as if the measures themselves constitute individual chapters in the man’s personal manifesto.
This is not an album, it’s a biography. Paraphrasing is futile. Head down to The End of All Music and see for yourself.