Friday, January 22, 2010

R.L. BURNSIDE - Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down 2000

R.L. BURNSIDE - Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down 2000


If ever there was list of artists who deserved to be recognized and appreciated, R.L. Burnside would certainly be near the top of that list.  I was in Paris when his song “It’s Bad You Know” went over the top, and brought long overdue recognition to this great man.  But in all honesty, R.L. can be a difficult artist not only to pin down, but he seldom, for my tastes, commits a consistent body of work to any release.

Here on ‘I Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,’ he opens with three blistering numbers, all original, all unique ... and all fresh as can be.  But then comes “Nothing Man,” which is an outright theft of Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee.”  “Too Many Ups” is nice and funky, quite original, and is wonderful in the way he’s made the song sound as if it was taken from a well worn vinyl record; though the hip hop scratch leaves me cold.  “Bad Luck City” is what it is, sort of forgettable, and “R.L.’s Story” has been done so many times, in so many ways in the past, that it is just a pointless exercise.  Now, for "Chain Of Fools" I will make an exception, as he blends traditional and modern blues with a street flavor, and I make that exception because this song feels real, as if he's giving it his honest take ... and anytime an artist does that, it usually works for me.

So where does that leave us, it leaves us with six outstanding numbers that are a true testament to the nature and spirit of the blues.  The songs are simple and well played, with the most exciting number being “My Eyes [Keep Me In Trouble],” and you’re going to have to give it a listen to hear what I mean, and feel the smile it brings to my face.  Yeah, R.L.’s albums need to be combed to sort out the choice material, but the process is well worth your while.
More than anything, the deep dark personal tales of R.L. Burnside are the lasting (and haunting) memories I get from Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down.  Both the album's opener "Hard Time Killing Floor" as well as "R.L.'s Story" tell the tale of how R.L.'s father, brothers, and other families members were murdered in Chicago.  Burnside's matter of fact style of storytelling here is breathtaking.

Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down is almost like the meshing of two worlds.  R.L.'s weary and unapologetic storytelling, which is of course mainly backed by a tight blues band, is also blended with bits and slices of electronic experimentation and DJ scratches.  Every once and so often you'll hear a digital loop or a blip-n-bleep sample in a song that has no business being there.  It's like the production crew was going a bit overboard every once and a while.  However, the experiments pay off way more often than they don't. 

There are also some more "traditional" blues songs to keep the album flowing, just like there's some light-hearted fare to keep the album from being impossibly dark.  "Laugh To Keep From Cryin'," "Miss Maybelle," "Pucker Up Buttercup," and the cover of "Chain of Fools" are some of the memorable tracks that achieve this with success.

But it's the sad songs, the real bluesy numbers, that have me coming back to Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down.  "Got Messed Up," "My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble," "Black Mattie," "Bad Luck City," and the title track are notable as some of R.L.'s best studio songs.  If you've been mulling over where to expand your Burnside collection to (or if you're wondering what the hell this old bluesman was all about) then start here.
01. Hard Time Killing Floor  5:09
02. Got Messed Up  5:06
03. Miss Maybelle  3:18
04. Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down  3:40
05. Too Many Ups  3:36
06. Nothin' Man  3:42
07. See What My Buddy Done  4:02
08. My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble  3:27
09. Bad Luck City  6:33
10. Chain of Fools  3:42
11. R.L.'s Story  6:17
12. Robert Belfour - Black Mattie   4:48
13. Paul Jones [Blues] - Pucker Up Buttercup   3:53
14. Kenny Brown - Laugh to Keep From Cryin'   3:36

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