2000, October / R.L. Burnside
Wish I was in heaven sitting down
Like jazz, the blues has its share of late bloomers -- artists who didn't start recording or didn't become well-known until they were well into their 50s or 60s. R.L. Burnside is very much a late bloomer; the Mississippi bluesman was born in 1926, but it wasn't until the 1990s that he started to enjoy the publicity he deserved.
Recorded in 2000, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down finds the veteran singer continuing to be fairly unpredictable at 73. Essentially, this CD falls into the Mississippi blues category -- Burnside maintains the earthy, down-home rawness that people expect from Mississippi country-blues. But Burnside certainly isn't without urban influences, and this CD illustrates his appreciation of John Lee Hooker and early Muddy Waters as well as the Texas blues of Lightnin' Hopkins.
Burnside has also been influenced by R&B; one of the few tracks that he didn't write or co-write is a cover of Aretha Franklin's 1960s smash "Chain of Fools." The producers (who include Andy Kaulkin, John Porter, and Brad Cook) try to make that track and others relevant to hip-hop by adding sampling and scratching -- and when they do, it sounds forced and unnatural. Some of the producing is simply too high-tech for an artist as raw as Burnside, but that doesn't make his vocals any less impressive. Despite its imperfections, Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down is a generally appealing document of Burnside at 73.
By Alex Henderson