Thursday, July 11, 2013

R.L. Burnside - Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down

This 2000 release is less successful for me, as it tries hard to be a cross-over record (and apparently succeeded in that to some extent, at least) but loses the magic of the man and his guitar. I'm not sure how to even describe the music - it's not bad, and in some cases it's almost like Ry Cooder's atmospheric music - but the band is slick and smooth and not rough-edged like blues should be.

But, that said, "Miss Maybelle" is an attempt at more of a traditional blues sound - it sounds like R.L. played the basic track with his electric backing band but then the producer threw some annoying, completely unnecessary, noisy tricks on top of everything which is simply distracting and takes away from the song rather than adds to it.

The title track is a haunting, acoustic slide number and probably the best track on the record since it is simply Rule & his guitar - as it should be! This might be the saving grace of the album and damn near worth the price of admission by itself! But then we get a drum machine beat and some excess loops for "Too Many Ups" marring an otherwise successful, funky electric number - again, if Burnside was left to his own devices, this would be a superior song. The hip-hop break in the middle really destroys the whole damn thing. "Nothin' Man" is a cute but inconsequential, throw away number - no really worthy of Burnside. Ironically, this is a song that doesn't have a lot of garbage tacked onto it - it just isn't a great song.

Thankfully, they get back on track with "See What My Buddy Done", a smoldering, electric blues stomper that lets the man do his thing without any interference (there is piano, but that works) and hence, is another highlight. "My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble" is a bit unusual with its country blues influence and addition of mandolin, but this is good stuff - a bit of a departure and more light-hearted than most of the album, but cool. Unfortunately, they lose the momentum with "Bad Luck City", which is basically a hip-hop song (although I admit some of the samples are kinda hip in a Curtis Mayfield kinda way - just not right for Rule - more like one of the Heavy's more experimental album-filler tunes).

There's a decent cover of "Chain of Fools" (though, again, not particularly fitting for Burnside, but good) before closing with "R.L.'s Story", the atmospheric autobiography telling of the murders of his family members in Chicago - chilling, in a movie theme kinda way, but not really a "song", per se.

Not a terrible album, but very far from his best and while I understand the concepts and the desire for experimentation and cross-over appeal, the attempts here really just don't work.