VARIOUS ARTISTS

Fat Possum: Not The Same Old Blues Crap (Fat Possum/Epitaph 0312-2)

A bass drum thumps, unceremoniously. A questionably tuned guitar slashes out two, maybe three, chords, over and over. What sounds like a box of buttons is rattled, with scant attention to rhythm. Then a voice smoked in Virginia leaf and pickled in 100 proof bourbon rasps out a few lines. "I've been home/Then I went to jail," it explains. "I'm gonna put my foot in your ass." And it's nice to meet you too, sir. This is T-Model Ford's "I'm Insane", the first track on this budget-priced sampler from the Fat Possum blues label, a record every bit as wonderful as its cover is appalling.

Based in Oxford, Mississippi, Fat Possum has been putting out blues records since 1992. But not any old kind of blues records. As the sleeve note to Not The Same Old Blues Crap explains it, "There are only two kinds of blues records that are made today: Fat Possum records, which don't suck, and all the others." That's just about right, too. The R&B racks are littered with hundreds of albums by journeyman blues bar bands, middle- aged blokes in suits with a few Stevie Ray Vaughan licks at their disposal, or young axe-slinging kids, equal parts flash and bum-fluff.

The same images and concerns that have sustained the blues throughout its history are present in these tracks, but scarily alive, as if jerked awake by massive jolts of electricity. Effectively, the label returns the blues to a time before anal-retentive white kids loaded it up with irrelevant notions of technique. For the most part this is the sound of ornery, ancient black geezers who should know better, driving too fast and too drunk through some rural hinterland, with women on their mind and whiskey on their breath.

Some of the best moments here - the drunken laughter as the Jelly Roll Kings crack up during "Have Mercy Baby", the berserk slide guitar of R.L. Burnside's "Snake Drive" - are the kind of things which would be hidden by retakes on those other kind of blues records, the ones which suck. We're lucky they're allowed out: in "caring" times like these, these kind of folk are more likely to be the subject of compulsory counselling, until they mend their no-good ways, stop drinking, sit up straight, and learn to play that riff right.

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