Roadside Album Review: Duwayne Burnside brings the blues back to its roots with “Acoustic Burnside”

Duwayne Burnside — “Acoustic Burnside” — Dolceola Recordings

There is so much new music floating around these days that’s based on the blues, incorporates the blues or updates the blues, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Much of it is inspired, exciting music.

But sometimes, you just want to hear the blues. In this case, the North Mississippi Hill Country blues.

That’s why I love this new album by Duwayne Burnside, son of the late, legendary R.L. Burnside — it’s the blues in raw and primeval form, its roots nurtured in the fertile Mississippi blues soil that Burnside calls home.

It’s just the power of Burnside’s rich, rugged vocals, propelled by his acoustic guitar, exploring vital, classic blues material.

He’s been an exciting electric guitarist for decades, but this is his first new album in 17 years, recorded almost like field recordings in the area around Burnside’s home in Holly Springs, Miss., in 2018 and 2019.

“Although I’ve never stopped playing shows, this album is a rebirth for me,” Burnside says. “It puts me in the game again, but it’s perfect, too, because playing stripped down like this, you can hear this music come right out of my heart because that’s where my daddy put it.”

The album kicks off with the hypnotic messaging of “Going Down South,” “Jumper on the Line” and “Poor Black Mattie,” three of his father’s songs. “When I play them,” he says, “I’m doing my best to show respect and love for him and the music. When I play on acoustic guitar, especially, it goes back even further, because this music started without electricity. I think about all the musicians who came up from the early days, out of the Delta and the hills, and took their music to the big cities and all around the world. It makes me feel like I’m a part of all that history.”

Next, he shows his respect and creativity with his own “She Threw My Clothes Out,” followed by “Alice Mae,” written by R.L. Burnside for Duwayne’s mother. That’s followed by Burnside’s rhythmic version of the very traditional, very classic Robert Johnson song, “Dust My Broom.”

Those are followed by “Meet Me In the City,” “Stay All Night,” an alternative take of “She Threw My Clothes Out,” the Roosevelt Sykes chestnut “44 Blues,” “Bad Bad Pain,” and the album closer, “Lord Have Mercy On Me,” by Burnside’s neighbor Junior Kimbrough, one of the founding fathers of the hill country style.

They all combine to create a unique recording of earthy, gritty blues that’s filled with authentic, soulful music. And that feel requires a shoutout to Pinkie Pulliam on bass and Dan Torigoe on piano, who complete the sound on these sessions.

Torigoe, not incidentally, is the founder of this record label, Dolceola Recordings. He says that his label is “focused on analog field recording of American traditional music, with love and adoration for the great field recorders. I love R.L.’s first recordings made in 1968 by George Mitchell and wanted to make a sort of modern version of it with the current generation. So, while Duwayne is renowned for his solid electric guitar playing with influences from modern blues, the musical tradition of his father and his community is rooted very deep in his body and soul, and we wanted to capture that in a more primitive way.”

And they have done just that, recording the blues the way they were meant to be heard. If you watch the video at the end (I hope you do!), you’ll see Burnside on his front steps with some of that recording equipment, catching the music exactly as its created.

It may indeed be primitive by today’s digital standards, but so is the blues. If you’re a fan, don’t miss this album. If you haven’t been, listen to some of the origins of American popular music.

Here’s Duwayne Burnside with “Dust My Broom”:

Track list

  1. Going Down South
  2. See My Jumper Hanging on the Line
  3. Poor Black Mattie
  4. She Threw My Clothes Out
  5. Alice Mae
  6. Dust My Broom
  7. Meet Me in the City
  8. Stay All Night
  9. She Threw My Clothes Out (Alternative Take)
  10. 44 Pistol
  11. Bad Bad Pain
  12. Lord Have Mercy On Me

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