Decisions by Bobby Rush with Blind Dog Smokin’

May 28, 2014


Bobby Rush is one of those connectors to the early 20th century blues masters of the Southern Delta. He played with Elmore James and learned his craft at the feet of such bluesmen as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. He toured for decades and became known as the “King of the Chitlin Circuit.” As he aged he underwent a commercial resurrection culminating in 2007 when his album Down In Louisiana was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Carl Gustafson formed his first band in 1964 and during 1993 founded Blinddog Smokin.’ Their paths continually crossed while on the road and a friendship was formed. They have finally gone into the studio together and the result is the album Decisions.

What sounds like a good idea, however, doesn’t quite gel. Rush is at his best when he plays raw and basic blues. Decisions finds him trying to be a little too creative and maybe not serious enough as many of the lyrics are just too cute. “Dr. Rush” is a prime example of this problem as he raps his way through questions and answers on a pretend radio show.

There are a few tracks that try to save the album. “Another Murder” features Dr. John on vocals and it is a New Orleans song to its core. The two voices play off of each other and as the lyrics explore the seedy side of the city. A judicious use of background singers and subtle brass serve to enhance the song.

“Bobby Rush’s Bus” is an amusing autobiographical song. In this case it is his tour bus reminiscing, which provides a lot of room for the various band members to solo.

Much of the rest of the release falls into the aforementioned average category. It may be that he is better off without a tight band behind him as it stifles his freedom of expression.

The DVD consists of a music video of “Another Murder,” interviews with Rush and Dr. John, plus some behind the scenes photos. It is interesting viewing the first time through but one has to ask how many times a person will want to return to this material.

Decisions provides some glimpses of the blues genius of Bobby Rush but overall it is an album that over reaches and misses the mark. If you want to explore his blues legacy, there are better places to start.

Down In Louisiana by Bobby Rush

January 7, 2013

Bobby Rush has been playing the blues for over six decades. He began on the same Chicago stages as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Little Walter. Now at the age of 77, as one of the elder statesmen of the American Blues, he will release a new studio album in February of 2013 titled, Down in Louisiana.

Rush is a son of the Louisiana Delta and juke joints of the South that were a breeding ground for many of artists who contributed to the evolution of the blues. His sound has evolved during the past 60 years as there is a dash of funk here, some reggae there, and a little rock and roll every once in awhile; but at its foundation, his music is a form of gritty and at times raw blues.

He has always been a master storyteller. His stories of life, whether they be the theme of finding love which dominates the title track, or the double-entendre lyrics set to the pulsating rhythms of “You Just Like a Dresser,” the lyrics keep him centered in the American blues tradition.

He keeps it pretty basic on his latest release. In addition to his vocals, guitar, and harp, he is supported by keyboardist Paul Brown, drummer Pete Mendillo, bassist Terry Richardson, and guitarist Lou Rodriguez. They are a tight-knit ensemble that are experienced enough to allow Rush to shine while filling in the sound.

If any song defines what his music is all about, it is the six-minute “Don’t You Cry.” It channels the electric blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf as he improvises on the guitar and harp.

The years have been kind to his voice as it is still a formidable presence. His music exudes energy and at times humor, which is always a good combination. “Tight Money,” “Boogie in the Dark,” “Bowlegged Woman,” and “Rock This House,” are all a nice ride through the style, sound, and mind of an American bluesman.

Bobby Rush has been on the road and in the studio through good times and bad and at his age, he is who he is. Down in Louisiana is an album that should please any fan of the blues.

Article first published as Music Review: Bobby Rush – Down in Louisiana on Blogcritics.