The grandson of legendary blues man, R.L. Burnside, this 40-year-old, Memphis-born drummer-turned-guitarist and singer/songwriter is making a name for himself in the blues world on the back of seven well-received album projects. His last, ‘Descendants Of Hill Country,’ released under the Cedric Burnside Project moniker, nabbed a Grammy award nomination in 2016. Now, Burnside’s back with a potent offering called ‘Benton Country Relics,’ released on the Alabama-based Single Lock label, once home to St. Paul & The Broken Bones and singer/songwriter, Nicole Atkins (both interviewed by SJF).
If you like your blues in a primal, unpolished, almost ramshackle form, then this is the album for you. It’s raw, authentic and visceral, and a far cry from what the likes of Robert Cray are doing. Cedric Burnside – who’s had cameos in a couple of movies, including 2006’s Samuel L. Jackson-starring Black Snake Moan – sings like he’s spitting blood with every word uttered. It’s music about pain, deprivation, and hardship and like all good blues music draws directly on the African American experience in the so-called “Land of the Free.” It’s not, then, a cheerful soundtrack but rather a sobering reality check and the perfect antidote for those who despise vacuous, machine-tooled, mainstream pop and rap. This isn’t a record from someone bragging about their material possessions and wealth – like Illuminati puppet, Jay-Z, for example – but rather lamenting their circumstances and trying to keep their head above water. Ultimately, it’s survival music.
“Sometimes it’s hard to stay cool,” sings Burnside, on the reflective ballad ‘Hard To Stay Cool,’ where he describes circumstances that “makes you want to cuss and fuss, make you want to tear things apart.” But this isn’t an album without hope. The set’s first single, ‘We Made It,’ with its fuzzy, monolithic guitar riff, is a celebration of survival in a harsh, remorseless world. “I came from nothin’ …” declares Burnside in a sepulchral voice, adding “I keep my head straight no matter how low I go.” Astonishingly direct and honest, ‘Benton County Relics’ is a stinging riposte to those that (mistakenly) think blues music in antiquated, irrelevant and headed for the cemetery. One spin of this brutally beautiful record will confirm that rumours of its impending demise have been greatly exaggerated. Relic from a bygone age? We think not.