Album: RL Burnside

A Bothered Mind, FAT POSSUM
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The Independent Culture

A Bothered Mind opens with the heaviest riff you'll hear all year, a Caterpillar-tracked live recording that churns majestically for about half a minute before fading out. Halfway through, a surly voice asserts: "I do what I want!" And you can believe it: although RL Burnside is nearer 80 than 70, you wouldn't want to cross him. There he is, in the inside photo, taking a leak at the roadside, with disdain for politeness, and the brazen confidence of the true survivor.

A Bothered Mind opens with the heaviest riff you'll hear all year, a Caterpillar-tracked live recording that churns majestically for about half a minute before fading out. Halfway through, a surly voice asserts: "I do what I want!" And you can believe it: although RL Burnside is nearer 80 than 70, you wouldn't want to cross him. There he is, in the inside photo, taking a leak at the roadside, with disdain for politeness, and the brazen confidence of the true survivor.

The later stages of RL's career bear out his claim to do whatever he wants. Few bluesmen of any age have demonstrated his kind of artistic freedom, most notably in the Theremin-laced blues squall of his collaboration with the Blues Explosion on 1996's A Ass Pocket of Whiskey [ sic]. With A Bothered Mind the process is partly retrospective: new tracks, some involving guests such as Kid Rock and the rapper Lyrics Born, rub shoulders with older pieces refurbished by Martin Tino Gross, who brings a modern lustre to Burnside's classic boogie stylings.

The most impressive such exercise is "Shake 'em on Down", a twitchy, powerful, techno-blues groove, akin to ZZ Top's Eliminator period in the way it yokes authentic blues feeling to new technology, with RL's sampled vocal soundbites echoing through a funky clavinet riff laced with slide guitar. "Goin' Down South" is a similarly propulsive funk-blues devised by Lyrics Born, with the rapper's trenchant invitation to the dance riding a strutting bassline and waspish guitar hook, and another haunting soundbite hook from Burnside adding depth and mystery. Elsewhere, a John Lee Hooker-esque boogie provides the rapper with a brusque backdrop for a loping rap on "Someday Baby".

Kid Rock adds his brash persona to "My Name Is Robert Too", but still can't compete with RL's commanding presence. For all his snotty bravado, the young punk carries no convincing threat, while Burnside's eerie murder ballads, such as "See What By Baby Done" [ sic], and penitentiary blues such as "Bird Without a Feather" have the matter-of-factness of truth filtered through time. And who'd dare argue with the clearly inebriated soul roaring profanitiesthrough "Stole My Chick"?

As it turns out, the song is less about sexual rage than an extension of an old rural blues theme, Burnside apparently referring to one of his chickens - although this may be purely metaphorical. The blues is like that, a deep, rich seam of versatile imagery and turbulent emotions; but too often, aficionados seek to restrict its presentation to some notion of purity that the genre's pioneers would have scoffed at. And as A Bothered Mind shows, the blues is often at its most compelling when infecting modern forms and methods with those images and emotions.

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