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March 2003

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R.L. Burnside
Heritage of the Blues - No Monkeys On This Train
HighTone Records

R.L. BurnsideBeing a pretty big R.L. Burnside fan, I realize that it may be pushing it to call Heritage of the Blues - No Monkeys On This Train (HighTone) the best recording I’ve ever heard from the master. I do believe I’ll stand by it, though. From the opening “Jumper Hangin’ On The Line” to the eerie “Nightmare Blues,” with its shades of John Lee Hooker, to the narratives throughout, including the title story, to the cover of Little Walter’s “Last Night,” everything crackles with the deep soul and authenticity of a Mississippi blues man.

The recordings include tastes of his family band, the Sound Machine, recorded in 1979 and 1980, and a number of solo tunes recorded at Phoenix’s Rhythm Room in 1992. In between are some questionably funny jokes and stories. The whole of the package is pure R.L. Burnside, pure Mississippi Delta back porch. There is nothing pretentious about Burnside. Though he wasn’t properly “discovered” until the 1980s, the 77-year-old joins the diminishing ranks of the “last of the greats.”

His live take on “Fireman Ring The Bell” evokes the slide wizardry of his mentor Fred McDowell, and “Goin’ Down South,” recorded with Bob Corritore (harp), Bruce Lopez (bass) and Chico Chism (drums) in 1992, sets up a monotonous beat that hypnotizes.

His version of Jimmy Rogers’ “Goin’ Away Baby,” one of two covers, is straight out of the early Chicago (read: Muddy) book, and his wonderful “Bad Luck City,” performed with the family band, has a '60s contemporary soul feel that, though sounding a bit dated, grabs the ears and won’t let go. ”Rollin’ & Tumblin’,” credited to Burnside, is superb, and the live take on “Last Night” is more of the same.

The slide is just exquisite and the audience was appropriately appreciative. This is a vital addition to the library of all Burnside fans, and a great starting point for those new to his music.

--- Mark E. Gallo 

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