Blues Bytes


October 2021

R.L. Boyce
Roll and Tumble
Waxploitation Records

RL Boyce

The first time I ever saw R.L. Boyce was on the 2008 documentary, M for Mississippi, when Roger Stolle and Jeff Konkel stopped by his house during a weekend house party. From that moment I was an R.L. Boyce fan, based on his sometimes hilarious interactions with Stolle and Konkel and the song he played during the film that served as background music for the house party sequence. That droning, funky, irresistible Hill Country rhythm that just never completely goes away. It seems like the easiest music in the world to play, until one actually tries to play it.

Boyce actually started playing the Hill Country blues as a youth in Como, Mississippi, playing drums for Otha Turner’s Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and R.L. Burnside for years before stepping out on guitar after Turner passed away in 2003. A few years back Boyce released his second album, Roll and Tumble for Waxploitation Records, which to these ears is one of the best recorded examples of the North Mississippi Hill Country sound that you’re likely to find these day. The album was recorded over two days on Boyce’s front porch in Como and at Zebra Ranch Studios in Hernando, Mississippi and produced by David Katznelson and Luther Dickinson.

Dickinson, Boyce, and Lightnin’ Malcolm all play guitar on the set, with drummers Cedric Burnside and Calvin Jackson (Burnside’s father) and bass drummer Andre Otha Turner (Turner’s grandson) joining in. The musicianship throughout is a joy to hear as everyone blends in seamlessly to lay down a positively mesmerizing Hill Country groove throughout, with Boyce squarely in the spotlight as he winds his way through these ten tracks. He’s credited with writing seven of them, but he offers his own unique interpretations of the other three (R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Mattie” and “Goin’ Down South” and the title track from “Hambone” Willie Newbern).

The set has a loose-limbed, almost casual feel that really gives it a house party feel, with the songs sort of flowing together and jamming for an extended periods (5 1/2 to 9 1/2 minute range) with lots of banter, laughter, and other sounds captured as the songs progress. Each song sort of falls together at the beginning and falls apart at the end, with Boyce obviously having a good time overseeing the process, shouting out good-natured instructions to the other musicians and singing in his own inimitable style. In some cases, the lyrics really seem to be stream-of-consciousness, just whatever is on his mind at the time. With all this in mind, there is truly never a dull moment on any of these tracks. Several songs could have gone on even longer than they did.

“R.L.’s Boogie” is the opener, with the funky, driving pace really setting the pace for the rest of the album. “Child of God,” with its hypnotic rhythms, takes us from Saturday night to Sunday morning, and the upbeat title track keeps the fun going with great interplay between the guitarists and drummers. The two Burnside covers are excellent, keeping in the spirit of the originals, and the moody “Don’t Worry My Mind” probably contains the quintessential blues line. When you hear it, you’ll know what I’m talking about. “Which R.L. Do You Want” is an autobiographical track of sorts, as Boyce summarizes his musical career.

There’s no doubt Boyce is having a great time on these tracks, but the contributions of the other musicians is just fantastic, from Dickinson and Malcolm’s supporting guitar work and Turner, Jackson (a Hill Country legend who passed away in 2015), and Cedric Burnside’s support on drums.
The blues R.L. Boyce and band play on Roll and Tumble is just irresistible. It will permeate down in your soul and stay there for a long time. Blues fans are advised to just let it soak in.

--- Graham Clarke



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