Roll and Tumble
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
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
“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