Cedric Burnside “Hill Country Love”

Mascot Label Group, 2024

Mid-life reflection and authentic blues from the Mississippi Hill Country.

artwork for Cedric Burnside album "Hill Country Love"Ask someone to name a Grammy-award winning drummer turned guitarist who is also the lead singer of his band and has appeared in several films and chances are, they’ll come up with the name Dave Grohl. Yet such accomplishment is not unique to the ever-popular Foo Fighters frontman, for Cedric Burnside presents as a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and actor from deep in the Hill Country of Mississippi.

Grandson of legendary bluesman R.L. Burnside, and son of blues drummer Calvin Jackson, Cedric Burnside began playing drums at a young age, featuring in both his father’s and grandfather’s bands from the age of 13. A serial winner of the Blues Music Award as Best Instrumentalist – Drums, his talents are not confined to the rhythm section. He takes the lead on vocals and guitar, writes the songs and produces the albums, even funding his latest offering in order to enjoy artistic freedom.

With such an authentic pedigree, Burnside is steeped in the blues, seeing himself as an inheritor, not imitator, of his native region’s music style. Grammy-nominated in 2016 for the album ‘Descendants of Hill Country’ and again in 2019 for ‘Benton County Relic’, his 2022 album ‘I Be Trying’ won the Best Traditional Blues Album category. As Burnside says, “winning the Grammy was awesome but people tend to treat you a little different when things like that happen.”

Perhaps because of this, for his latest album he set up shop in an old wooden building in Ripley – not the Surrey home of that other great bluesman, Eric Clapton, but a small town in Mississippi, known as the birthplace of the Hill Country Blues style. Co-producer Luther Dickinson brought recording equipment into the room full of wood and rubbish, where the four musicians proceeded to lay down fourteen tracks over just two days. Dickinson himself plays bass, Artemas LeSueur is on drums, Patrick Williams on harmonica with Burnside on vocals and guitars.

‘Hill Country Love’ feels very much like a live performance. With scarcely a pause between tracks, the tape keeps rolling, even picking up snatches of conversation. The punchy ‘I Know’ kicks things off, with Williams wailing on harmonica. The title track follows, in which Burnside expresses his joy in playing this music.

“Early morning, crack of dawn
Already writin’ a few songs
Bags packed, ‘bout to hit the road
Now I’m gonna spread a little bit of Hill Country love”

With its unusual chord progressions and time signatures, the Hill Country Blues genre bears comparison with West African music and its characteristic polyrhythmic drone style. ‘Love You Music’ captures that feel, while ‘Shake Em On Down’ is like an early version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. In similar style – his Grammy was for Best Traditional Album after all – there’s a harp-soaked ‘You Got To Move’, an African-American spiritual, familiar from The Rolling Stones’ ‘Let It Bleed’.

As the recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship, Burnside will be aware of his legacy but there are elements of more recent musical styles on this album, from funk to hip-hop. With its stripped-down production values and from the heart song writing, the album has the authenticity he was striving for. In ‘Juke Joint’ he describes his formative years, where the nightclub was both his school and his church. A religious man, Burnside is conscious that the life of a travelling musician comes with a spiritual health warning. In ‘Closer’ he confesses –

“My faith get tested out here everyday
My faith get tested in every way”

With several successful albums under his belt, ‘Hill Country Love’ allows Cedric Burnside to put his own mark on the musical tradition of this region, expressing himself through the sincerity of his words and the rawness of his playing. It will appeal to the blues purist but with its fresh approach, it deserves to be heard by a wider audience.


About Chas Lacey 16 Articles
My musical journey has taken me from Big Pink to southern California. Life in the fast lane now has a sensible 20mph limit which leaves more time for listening to new music and catching live shows.
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