Out There

Far from the same old news

Most Things Haven't Worked Out
Junior Kimbrough
Fat Possum/Capricorn Records

Mr. Wizard
R.L. Burnside
Fat Possum/Epitaph Records

There are all kinds of blues, from the downtown blues of Bobby Bland to the by-now Disney blues of B.B. King and the greasepaint blues of clowns like Debbie Davies. All of these, however, skirt the blues' accumulated misery, bile, and dysfunction so often expressed in the acrid smell of gunsmoke hanging over the jukebox and blood soaking into sawdust. Real Hell's-breath blues are a scab you can't help but pick, a scar that never stops itching, and a cry more than willing to turn the throat that gives it as raw as hamburger.

R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough--purveyors of a uniquely isolated and self-determined blues that grew up in Northern Mississippi--are here to remind you of that, the current reference point for primitive in an age when most people think of that word in terms of cute cowrie shell necklaces and forget the heads hanging by their own hair from some smoky, deep-forest lodgepole. Their music is full of hypnotic droning and repetitive, trance-inducing patterns that are far more shamanistic than danceable.

Of the two, Kimbrough is a bit more polished and probably the easier introduction. His work is built upon the mossy foundation that existed long before Bonnie Raitt. Kimbrough's tone is as starlight-bright and cold as that found in many early-'60s surf instrumentals; while he may be a bit more accessible, the title of his album--freed of all the bullshit "keep on keepin' on" cliches that many use to dilute their cries of despair--serves notice that he clearly sees his history.

Burnside is more the Wild Man Fisher of the blues, a Tasmanian Devil of pissed-off soul and ill will. Not quite as spastically profane as 1996's A Ass Pocket of Whiskey, or as given to the electro-crunch pretensions of overly earnest accompanying acolytes Jon Spencer et al., Mr. Wizard finds Burnside treading the middle ground between that previous release and his more native (and honest) Too Bad Jim (1994). Although Spencer and Co. are still on board, on this release they seem more interested in following the master's lead than indulging their blooz fantasies, and the album is much the better for it. As immediate as the sound of a fender grinding a guardrail and as mesmerizing as the steady downward bob of a drunk's head, both these releases bring the blues back to home turf: scary, weird, and more than a little discomfiting.

--Matt Weitz

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Matt Weitz