Out There

Strung up

Long Walk Back
Junior Brown
Curb Records

Come On In
R.L. Burnside
Fat Possum Records/Epitaph

Junior Brown--a born-again Texan best known for his guit-steel contraption and his love for Ernest Tubb and Jesus H. Christ--thinks rock ended with Hendrix; R.L. Burnside--a 71-year-old Mississippi guitarist who got his blues uncut from Fred McDowell--thinks rock started with cronie Jon Spencer. Junior plays for the Lord, R.L. shares a stage with the devil, and they surely wouldn't know each other if they met on the stage at the House of Blues. But the two have one thing in common: They're defined by their passion for history--Brown's desire to preserve it with a historian's fervor, and Burnside's desire to burn it to the ground with a hellhound's glee.

Long Walk Back is Brown's fourth album, and it sounds not so different from its predecessors--it's another waltz across Texas, or, in this case, a "Long Walk Back to San Antone" with a side trip to Memphis via Hawaii. The man hates to be known as a novelty, but Brown is just this side of it without turning into a party favor: He turns Elvis' old hit "Rock-A-Hula Baby" into a clambake throwdown, and spends a good hunk of the album doing that honky-tonk rave-up shtick that made him a hero to purists and gearheads. And it's better if he not stray from the surf-and-turf buffet: The hokey ballad "Read 'Em and Weep" is a fingernail in a sundae, and the Hendrix rip "Keepin' Up With You" can't hold its own with the corpse. Plus, the long closer, "Stupid Blues," is more silly pastiche than serious passion--Junior's one hell of a player, but too often he lets his technique do all the work.

But Brown plays it straight compared to Burnside, who makes a mess of history, hooking up with Beck producer Tom Rothrock on Come On In to create a most whacked-out punk-blues-and-now-dance-dub hybrid that's either the future of the blues or the death of tradition. Rothrock picks up where Jon Spencer left off, reducing Burnside to scenery while the white boy hips it up with keyboards and programmed drums; Rothrock might as well have sampled Burnside rather than waste the real thing's time. The result is inspiring enough in spots--"Let My Baby Ride" roars, then explodes--but you want to hear more of Burnside's howl-and-holler and less of Rothrock's synthetic stomp. By the time you get to the jittery Alec Empire remix that closes the record--which has the old man muttering something about how "my dick used to get so hard...I used to have to hold it down to keep from sticking it in my nose"--you'll wonder whether the whole thing's a sick joke, or just sickening.

--Robert Wilonsky

 
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