In the last decade, R.L. Burnside, the most well-known purveyor of Mississippi hill-country blues, has become something of an antihero of the blues scene. His label, Fat Possum Records, has sent him on tours with punk-rock bands, slapped racy portraits on his album covers, and commissioned hip-hop remixes of Burnside grooves. Despite -- or perhaps in spite of -- the trappings, Burnside himself hasn't changed a bit, and the music he plays today is the same hypnotic country blues that he's played for the last 30 or so years at juke joints and house parties in the Mississippi hill country.
With Raw Electric: 1979-1980, musicologist David Evans takes us back to those juke-joint years, a time when the biggest party of all was at Burnside's own house in Independence. In those days, R.L. drove a tractor to support his wife and 12 kids, but he still managed to have a designated "music room" in the front of the house where he and his family band -- sons Joseph and Daniel on guitar and son-in-law Calvin Jackson on drums -- could play. On Sunday afternoons, the Sound Machine would set up in a corner of that front room and perform for a crowd of 30 or more neighbors drinking and dancing and cutting up over the music, determined to have a good time.
These 17 tracks all come from outtakes or practice sessions for other projects, including the Evans-produced Sound Machine Groove and a Vogue (France) release. None of these songs is a throwaway, however -- taken in order, they document Burnside's career as a work-in-progress. Originals like "Goin' Down South" and the seminal "Jumper Hanging Out On The Line" are here, as well as covers of Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me," Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years," and Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues." Burnside delivers them all in typical slash-and-drone one chord style, his children providing the steady backbeat. Loose and off-the cuff, Raw Electric: 1979-1980 shows us more than a band hard at work. It captures a younger, funkier R.L. playing for his friends and family, doing what he loves best. -- Andria Lisle
Push Button Objects
The remix album is the ultimate affirmation of both the lover's devotion (one track, over and over again) and the skeptic's derision. After all, is there a better answer to the accusation that (insert genre here) all sounds alike than an entire album consisting of different versions of the same song? But a good remix album can operate like a regular album, provided the treatments are varied enough.
Not that 360 [Degrees] Remixes is whiplash-inducingly eclectic. But PBO's tick-tocking beat, unadorned, almost-acoustic-sounding guitar, and hollow-toned scratches (courtesy of DJ Craze) are plenty juicy to begin with, and aside from the Herbaliser's lounge-isms, the new mixes equal or better it. DJ Spinna offers simple, effective goth-funk -- wispy violins and muffled Benedictine chants -- while Kut Masta Kurt deconstructs blaxploitation soundtrack clichés, cutting a lowdown funk guitar and chase-scene strings in and out of the beat. And El-P's mix is as deep-grey and dystopian as the lyrics themselves: "The new era brings terror/You wish the quality of life was better/Peep the dilemma," rap guest stars Del the Funky Homosapien and Mr. Lif.
No such dilemma occurs on Different Tastes of Honey, which features 13 new versions of Tosca's "Honey," from 1999's Suzuki. (If you want to go macro, there's also the self-explanatory new Suzuki in Dub.) But instead of showcasing different production styles, the "Honey" mixes seem to emanate not from the original but each preceding track: Markus
Kienzi stays close to Tosca's blueprint, but the rest range from Biggabush's chunky, clunky funk (think of a sound clash between '70s and '80s Herbie Hancock) to the relaxed yet pumping house of Faze Action and Organic Audio to the roots-reggae feel of the second of two Supatone dubs. Perfect for that evening of tantric lovemaking you've been putting off. -- Michaelangelo Matos
Grades: Push Button Objects -- B+; Tosca -- B
Kansas City's Hadacol certainly aren't redefining alt-country, that streak of sincerity and reverence that ran through the ironic '90s like the stripe on a skunk. With their lite-twang sound and generally straightforward songwriting, the band's second album, All In Your Head, sounds like 1995, from the obligatory suped-up cover of a traditional murder ballad ("Little Sadie") to the strange X-Files vibe and alien-abduction storyline of the title track. The result is an album that adds the earthiness of the Bottle Rockets to the expansiveness of the Jayhawks, and the sum falls just shy of Hootie & the Blowfish's bland agreeableness.
That's not to say the album doesn't have its moments. A candid snapshot of Midwestern family life, "Another Day" quietly offers an antidote to the parent-hating bash-rock that clogs the radio these days, while the bouncy, surf-rock-flavored "Aeroplane Song" gives a nod to post-alt-country pop. "Libby's Tune" rocks and sways with heartfelt nostalgia and a soaring chorus, and when Fred Wickham belts out the last verse about seeing an old friend who should be dead, it's easily the most moving moment on the album.
All In Your Head is by-the-numbers alt-country, but its unaffected sincerity, general unpretentiousness, and emotion-driven songwriting remind us why we liked that particular equation in the first place.