Artist: Bobby Rush
Album: Porcupine Meat
Release Date: 09/16/2016
When I interviewed Bobby Rush for his box set, Chicken Heads: A 50-year History, last fall, Bobby alluded to “a project so big it won’t be on my own label, it will be on a big label and has lots of people involved.” Credit Rush for not revealing the details; which we now unveil. This is Rush’s debut release for Rounder Records, sixty plus years into his storied career. It could be his best recording at age 82. Yes, he defies logic. He still does over 200 shows a year, has perfect posture, and, as one bluesman said, “He doesn’t walk. He struts.” Dubbed the King of the Chitlin’ Circuit, Rush has loyal has built a large fanbase over the years, propelled, in part, by his Grammy-nominated, mostly acoustic Down in Louisiana.
Since 2003, Rush has released most of his albums on his own Deep Rush label, but he realized that he could no longer do it all. “I outgrew myself,” he says, “When you are wearing all the hats you can’t be everywhere at once.” Rounder’s longtime VP of A & R, producer Scott Billington, has built an esteemed history of making great records with Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas and Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown to name just a few. Billington has wanted to work with Rush for 25 years, saying, “He is the most vital bluesman of his generation. There are many people who still don’t know Bobby Rush, even though he is a hero in the parallel universe of the Chitlin’ Circuit.”
This is the first time Rush recorded in his home state of Louisiana as Billington gathered some of the state’s best musicians for the sessions in New Orleans. Rush brought along his cohort, guitarist Vasti Jackson, and several other guest guitarists join on select tracks including Dave Alvin, Joe Bonamassa and Keb Mo’. Rush does a splendid job on the vocals and finds all the right notes on his harmonica backed by rhythmic tracks, all of which were recorded live. In fact, unlike some of Rush’s own label material where synthesizers are used, these sessions used only real instruments.
Rush, having written over 300 songs in his career, wrote original material for this album. Billington and his wife, Johnette Downing (the well-known New Orleans songwriter and children’ musician) co-wrote “Catfish Stew” and “Snake in the Grass.” Anyone who has seen Rush’s live shows with his dancers knows that he writes rather salacious material and he did not stray from that here as evidenced by these titles: “I Think That Your Dress Too Short,” “Nightime Gardener,” and “I Don’t Want Nobody Hanging Around.” Of the title track he says, “If a lady won’t treat me right, but she doesn’t want anyone else to have me, that is hard to digest,” hence the lyric, “too fat to eat, too lean to throw away.” The tune”Funk O’ De Funk” best epitomizes Rush’s singular style, putting funk into blues. The epic, slow-burning “Got Me Accused” is inspired by events from Bobby’s own life but seems especially current and topical, given the racial injustice we’ve seen too often lately.
This is pure Bobby Rush, staying true to the style that’s stamped his career. He knows what he does best and he sticks to it, humbly saying, “I just try to record good music and stories.” Don’t be at all surprised to see this album garner Grammy and Blues Award nominations. It is a momentous blues album from a living legend.
– Jim Hynes