by Todd Paw
Fat Possum Records: "The Same Old Blues Crap."
You just gotta love a record label whose slogan is "We're
trying our best." This spunky little company out of Oxford, Mississippi
has just about cornered the market for the hip, down-and-dirty raunch
that results when you mix traditional southern Black blues with electronica,
hip-hop and rap. Their premiere artist, R.L. Burnside, has gained radio
play with his newest album, Wish I was in Heaven Sitting Down. But that's
just the tip of the Fat Possum iceberg. Fat Possum's stable includes
Cedell Davis, T-Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones, Junior Kimbrough,
Hasil Adkins, Elmo Williams and a bunch of other old wankers who could
curdle your milk by spitting in it (as one reviewer noted, T-Model Ford
did not sell his soul to the devil in return for his musical abilities;
the devil would probably run from Mr. Ford.)
I'll let Fat Possum speak for itself in describing their newest
compilation disc, New Beats from the Delta, produced and remixed by
a motley roster including Organized Noize, Big Oomp, Coldwatah and Tra
Dubse from Camp Go Gittas: "Southern gangsta rap with traditional
Fat Possum blues.... In the next few years we'll probably have
to listen to all sorts of watered-down hybrids of this sort that'll
end up in Tiger Woods commercials, but until that happens New Beats
from the Delta sets a high standard for all the others to try to reach."
I was lucky enough to catch a Fat Possum tour featuring T-Model Ford,
Cedell Davis and Paul Jones. Davis is an electric slide guitarist who,
ever since a childhood bout with polio, has played left-handed with
his mother's butter knife wedged between the gnarled fingers of
his right hand. His music is gnarled, also; he clutches at discordant
clusters of notes and slams the butter knife up and down the strings
to create a rueful cacophony unlike anything you've ever heard.
Jones got the crowd up and dancing. But it was Ford—much less menacing
in person than he appears on his album covers—who made the show.
Playing seated, holding a Peavey Razor on his lap (an electric guitar
that looks like something your little brother made in shop class with
a jigsaw), Ford played the raw, funky blues for hours (when I left,
exhausted, he was still going strong). When he ran out of songs, he
played the same ones over again. Nobody cared.
I should mention that each of the guitarists was accompanied by a single
backing musician—a drummer called Spam.
One older-than-dirt electric guitarist turned up to 11, and a drummer
named Spam. This is the kind of juke-joint show nobody north of the
Mason-Dixon has seen since Hound Dog Taylor died and John Lee Hooker
went uptown. Now Fat Possum has put it on the road.
For more than you wanted to know about their albums, tour dates and
attitude, check out the Fat Possum Web site, at www.fatpossum.com/home.html.
And if you're a blues fan, and not afraid of the real, catch these
guys on the road.
Neblung Price—Darker (Redhead Records, 2001)
The second album from Roxbury duo Jim Price and Rick Neblung will probably
get airtime on WMFU, where Price has been a DJ since the bicentennial.
Unfortunately, it probably won't get airtime anywhere else. Recorded
on an 8-track Tascam reel-to-reel recorder, Darker is loopy, eccentric
and altogether wonderful. Songs like "Big Rudy (And His Happy Boys)
are happy, Ween-like ditties that leave you wishing only for a George
and Ringo to thicken Jim and Rick's stew. Others, like "Boneyard",
justify the album's title with lines like, "A hundred thousand
shovels/Can't bring her back to me." Price and Neblung seem
to have mastered the moody instrumental, as well.
Albums like this just remind me of how many really talented, really
overlooked musicians there are in the world. Price and Neblung wrote
all the songs and played all the instruments, and they can be proud
of the result.
I'm not sure where to tell you to look for their albums. On their
Web site, there's a message: "This site is CLOSED due to negligence.
Go somewhere else." You can try e-mailing them at email@example.com.
The Mammals—Born Live (Humble Abode Music, 2001)
I was fortunate enough to get a ride with Tao Rodriguez Seeger into
Woodstock recently. Fortunate, because I was hitchhiking, trying to
make an aikido class on time (just made it); and also because we got
a chance to talk about The Mammals, the band Seeger shares with Ruth
Ungar, Alicia Jo Rabins and Mike Merenda. You've probably heard
a couple of these names before: Seeger is Pete's grandson, and
Ungar is Jay's daughter. Rabins is a classically-trained violinist
and Merenda plays banjo with the Jay Ungar & Molly Mason Family
The Mammals are a string band that blends folk singing, old-time picking
and dance traditions in a mix that is both timeless and contemporary.
This is not the Folkways brat pack, although they have inherited the
infectious positive and open attitude of their forebears. Their recordings
are too honest to be derivative; at the same time, one suspects they
will grow noticeably in the coming years. Already, The Mammals exhibit
exquisite musicianship and a rare musical maturity.
Upcoming performances include Club Helsinki in Great Barrington August
8; The Living Room in NYC on August 9; and the Philadelphia Folk Festival
the weekend of August 24. For more listings, check their Web site at
—CD Reviews by Todd Paw