Duwayne Burnside‘s latest album Acoustic Burnside (Dolceola Records) — his first in 17 years — may not have won the award in the Acoustic Blues Album category for which it was nominated during last month’s Blues Music Awards (an honor that went instead to another “Mississippi Son” in the form of an album by that name from harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite), but it’s one you’re going to need to add to your collection if you haven’t already. Sure, we’ve heard some of these same songs covered — quite well, in fact — over the years by the likes of such stars as The Black Keys and Buddy Guy, but not since the original masters like Duwayne’s father R.L. Burnside and their longtime Hill Country neighbor Junior Kimbrough have these songs sounded as genuine and satisfying as you’ll hear here.
Referring to the project as a “rebirth for me,” Duwayne returns to his roots with acoustic versions of songs he learned mostly from his father, including several of the elder Burnside’s (“Going Down South,” “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line,” “Alice Mae”) along with some from Kimbrough (“Stay All Night,” “Meet Me in the City,” “Lord Have Mercy on Me”), Robert Johnson (“Dust My Broom”), and other classics (“Poor Black Mattie,” “44 Pistol”), with Burnside elaborating: “…playing stripped down like this, you can hear this music come right out of my heart because that’s where my daddy put it.”
Every bit of Acoustic Burnside is outstanding, making it damn near impossible to be able to point to particular highlights. Among the best of what you’ll hear are the gritty opening “Going Down South,” the swaying, captivating back-to-back takes on “Meet Me in the City” and “Stay All Night” (perhaps the best version we’ve ever heard) midway through the album, and the closing “Lord Have Mercy on Me.”
But consider those nothing more than a starting point, with the first half of the album also including the wailing vocals of “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line,” the straightahead “Poor Black Mattie” and first of two terrific takes of Burnside’s own “She Threw My Clothes Out” — with vocals ranging from tender and quiet to a deep growl — and a thumping “Alice Mae” on which Pinkie Pulliam accompanies on bass, with a bit more embellishment coming from Burnside’s guitar and/or others’ instruments on numbers like the penultimate “Bad Bad Pain” and closing “Lord Have Mercy on Me.”
And it just doesn’t get any rawer than this. Having been captured through field recordings at various locations in and around Burnside’s hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi, the sound here is akin to recordings from the likes of such greats as Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, and the elder Burnside, complete with talk between and during songs, the strumming of guitar strings, noise from the crowd on the street that gathered to listen, and plenty of other touches that only add to the authenticity of the project.
The Blues Foundation and its members may have gotten something at least part right in not selecting this as Acoustic Blues Album of the year: this one may well be the Acoustic Blues Album of the decade!