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Burnside On Burnside

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Album Review

Like jazz, blues music has faced a problem of attrition, with its major names dying off and younger artists having trouble establishing themselves at anything like an equal level of recognition. One way out of this dilemma has been the discovery of new-old bluesmen, musicians who have reached an advanced age without becoming stars, who can now be trotted out as performers in the tradition of the lost heroes. Of course, the practice of discovering or rediscovering old bluesmen dates back at least to the folk boom, but it is given impetus by the dire state of blues music. R.L. Burnside owes his breakthrough to the 1992 documentary Deep Blues, which led to his signing to Fat Possum Records when he was already in his sixties. Since then, he has been taken up by such hip figures as Jon Spencer and Beck producer Tom Rothrock, resulting in albums that have broadened his popularity but irritated purists with their contemporary gimmicks. The purists should be pleased by the live album Burnside on Burnside, recorded on a West Coast tour in the winter of 2001, which finds the Mississippi musician in Portland and San Francisco, backed only by second guitarist Kenny Brown and drummer Cedric Burnside, Burnside's grandson. The 74-year-old singer/guitarist rocks out furiously for the better part of the set, evoking obvious predecessors such as Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. He's no match for them, of course, not only because he lacks their distinctiveness, but because of his ingratiating attitude, complete with corny jokes. But that has its appeal, too. Has there ever been a Delta bluesman as friendly as R.L. Burnside? Probably not, but if your hobby suddenly became a paying profession just as you hit retirement age, you'd be happy about it, too.


Born: 23 November 1926 in Oxford, MS

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

North Mississippi guitarist R.L. Burnside was one of the paragons of state-of-the-art Delta juke joint blues. The guitarist, singer and songwriter was born November 23, 1926 in Oxford, MS, and made his home in Holly Springs, in the hill country above the Delta. He lived most of his life in the Mississippi hill country, which, unlike the Delta region, consists mainly of a lot of small farms. He learned his music from his neighbor, Fred McDowell, and the highly rhythmic style that Burnside plays is...
Full bio
Burnside On Burnside, R.L. Burnside
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