Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Updated old school blues from R. L. Burnside

Often, when you hear a really soulful voice singing the blues, it’s some old, tinny mono recording that sounds like it was performed in a bathroom trashcan while unwrapping birthday presents. Today, I want to treat you to some old school blues with hip-hop production. The album is “I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” by the late and truly great R. L. Burnside.

I hope he's sitting down playing a guitar.

Burnside was born in 1926 in Mississippi. He began recording in the late 1960s and had modest success until the 1990s when he signed with Fat Possum Records and began touring with some bigger acts, like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. His older recordings are more traditional, but on “Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down” they pulled out all the stops and fully updated the sound around him. The percussion is crisp, the bass is so pure it won’t rattle your speakers – though it will rattle your fillings if you listen to it as loud as I do – and they’ve added scratching and effects that add tremendous color without distracting too much from the actual songs.

I can tell you from experience that this album is fantastic highway driving music. The entire album is stellar, but check out these four tracks to get a flavor for what they did.

  • Hard Time Killing Floor Blues – From the opening seconds of this album, you know it’s going to be special. In this interpretation of Skip James’ song Burnside talks about his father, brother, and uncle who were all murdered in Chicago within the span of a year.
  • Got Messed Up – In my opinion, this is the best track on the album. The oozy bass line backs gritty vocals. “I’m not afraid of being in pain. Been here too long and I’ve seen too much. I got messed up.” The harmonica on this is filthy and the scratching is just right.
  • Miss Maybelle – I’ve heard numerous recordings of this song and several by Burnside himself. The great energy makes this my favorite version of this song. The samples and scratching are featured more prominently between the verses and you can tell Burnside is having fun with it.
  • Bad Luck City – This is a moving song about when love isn’t a two-way street. I’m frankly stunned someone hasn’t picked this up to rap over it yet or at least put it in a movie. I haven’t heard it, anyway.

Burnside died in 2005 at the age of 78. While it was a sad loss, he did have a good run and left behind 9 sons, 4 daughters, 35 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren A few of his sons are in the music business and have played with the likes of the North Mississippi Allstars, Joe Hill (Alien Ant Farm), Jimbo Mathus (Squirrel Nut Zippers). The Burnside sons also opened The Burnside Café in Holly Springs, Mississippi. So between that and his body of work, Robert Lee Sr. left behind quite a legacy.

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January 21, 2010 - Posted by | Blues

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