REVIEW: Cedric Burnside’s “Benton County Relic” is the Real Hill Country Blues

Reviews

Grammy nominee Cedric Burnside’s Benton County Relic (Single Lock Records), an excellent record on its own right, also stands for the present-day continuation of one of America’s great regional musical styles from before the advent of a national popular culture. This electric take on the Hill country blues, written and performed by an artist with generations of the music in his blood, brings the style to the modern day while losing nothing of its distinctive traditions. It sounds timeless, like it could have been made today or 60 years ago ago.  (If it were 70, we’d notice the difference in recording quality.)

The timelessness of the music is reflected in the lyrics. The lines “I pick up my guitar / I might write a song or two / I might get a few phone calls / Somebody want me to play the blues,” from “My Day” describes the life of every blues player since the invention of the telephone. And, almost unbelievably, Burnside’s lyrics, “Didn’t have a toilet / Didn’t have, didn’t have a bath tub / Walked three miles every day / To have water in the house for another day,” in “We Made It” describe his rural upbringing in Holly Springs, Mississippi, in the 1980s. Unfortunately, those lyrics do not only describe the past; they are both timely and timeless.

Cedric Burnside may have gone without many things, but he was never poor for music. Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All-Stars gave him his first guitar, and he grew up surrounded by Hill Country blues greats Junior Kimbrough, Jessie May Hemphill and Otha Turner. And, of course, there was the influence of the man who raised him, and who Cedric played, his grandfather, R.L. “Big Daddy” Burnside.  Put this all together, and Cedric Burnside is the Hill Country blues. Look no further–Benton County Relic is the real thing, and it’s really good.

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