By Randy Murphy
The word “relic” holds many meanings — it’s a thing that stays behind once the original is lost, or what remains of the possessions of saint. It’s also something cherished, worshipped even, for its ability to reach into the past and recreate a different era. In short, relics are both timely and timeless.
In his new, Grammy-nominated album, Benton County Relic, Cedric Burnside’s touches on all of these different meanings to explore and maintain the traditions of Mississippi Hill Country Blues while investigating the possibilities of the genre. Like all effective relics, Burnside’s latest offering first looks back to its foundations and then forward to its promises. It’s heady stuff, dangerous and reassuring in equal measure.
By now, most folks know that Cedric Burnside was born into blues royalty. The grandson of R.L. Burnside, he is steeped in the music of legends — Junior Kimbrough, “Mississippi” Fred McDowell, Robert Belfour, Otha Turner — and all of these influences find their way into this recording. But this album is much more than merely a roll call of riffs; Cedric Burnside is his own man, and he puts a unique spin on his musical inheritance.
All the songs here are worthy of praise; there’s not a clunker in the bunch. Two do stand out for me though. First, the hushed “There Is So Much” that showcases Burnside’s songwriting skills and expressive, soulful voice. It’s a quiet seduction of a tune.
But as tender as “There Is So Much” is, “Death Bell Blues” is a throwback, a true artifact of the rough-hewed, earthy music of his grandfather’s generation with Cedric’s drums hammering out a slow, merciless cadence as death prepares, as Papa and Mama tells him, to one day to come for him — and us.
The appeal of Mississippi Hill Country Blues, for me anyway, lies in ability to hold many textures and musical colors within its historic traditions. And Burnside’s new album, like any relic worth its salt, offers convincing confirmation of that fact.
We Made It / Get Your Groove On / Please Tell Me Baby / Typical Day / Give It To You / Hard To Stay Cool / Don’t Leave Me Girl / Death Bell Blues / There Is So Much / Call On Me / I’m Hurtin / Ain’t Gonna Take No Mess