By John F. Guido
Hey everyone, my name’s John. This is Liner Notes, and each week, I write about music that I think is cool and tell you about it. This week, I’m featuring the album “A Asspocket of Whiskey” by R.L. Burnside and The Jon Spencer Electric Blues Explosion.
I’ll come clean off the bat and admit that the primary reason I picked up this album in the first place was because its title made me laugh. Sure, there was R.L. Burnside too, but honestly Nickelback could have put out an album with the same name and I would have at least given it a passing listen. Sometimes it pays to judge something by its cover.
Now, most of my knowledge of R.L. Burnside – which isn’t much – comes from my being a fan of the former’s label-mate and yet another great, North Hill Country Mississippi bred bluesman, Junior Kimbrough. I feel that the two are so often lumped together that it’s almost impossible to be a fan of one and not have at least heard of the other. So as a fan of the latter, when I picked up this album, I was expecting to hear something similar to Kimbrough. Had Burnside recorded this album in the 80s or around the time of his first recordings, that might have been true. This album is another animal altogether.
As a whole, A Ass Pocket of Whiskey departs somewhat from the idea of what a blues song should sound like and discuss. That’s not so say that it forgets its lineage: the flavors of classic Burnside and what inspires him run through the entire album, that much is clear. What I mean is that the added grit provided by the garage-punk sound of Jon Spencer and his band invigorate the album in a fantastic way. The at a vitality to the sound of the album, and to Burnside himself. It’s clear that this – R.L.’s sixth album – marked a change in his sound. The themes of heartache, melancholy, regret etc. are still there, but there’s an energy and a rhythm to them that you can’t help but move to, and as a result, keeps the album from feeling as though its wallowing in self pity.
The twang of earlier Burnside pieces such as “See My Jumper Hanging on the Line” and “Poor Black Mattie” is diminished, but their bumping groove lingers on. The bare guitar riffs of Burnside past have beefed up on a hearty helping of gain and overdrive with a side of thumping drum kicks. The overall effect is an album that maintains the simplicity of the majority of Burnside’s previous works, but replaces their starkness with a fuller, deeper sound. It’s evolved.
Complemented by Burnside’s vocals – gruff, brusque, and somehow rawer than ever and dripping with emotion – and you get songs loaded with a fuck you attitude and an almost unrefined quality. Listening to this, you can’t help but notice that Burnside and Spencer had fun recording the album; that they probably weren’t very concerned with waxing poetic and contemplating the stories and themes of every track, but instead tried to emphasize the feel of every song. If that’s the case, they succeeded. The album’s just plain cathartic to listen to.
To put it bluntly, A Ass Pocket of Whiskey a raucous, rough, and rugged romp and I loved every second of it. Whether it’s your first time listening to Burnside, or you’re a blues fan looking for something a little different from the norm, this LP will do nicely.
“Criminal Inside Me”
“Goin’ Down South”
-The skits that accompany the beginning, middle, and end of some of the tracks.
-The fact that the tracks don’t strive for a perfect take, and are all the better for it.
-Burnside’s take – rejuvenation really – on blues standards “Boogie Chillen”, “Shake ‘Em on Down”, and “Walking Blues”.
-Burnside’s vocals are at times drowned out by the volume and messiness of some of the instrumentals on the tracks.
-Jon Spencer’s occasional vocals break the flow Burnside establishes with his own.
A strong bourbon, bar fights, a hangover and a punk rock attitude. Or a quiet night at home. Your pick.
Long Plays/Reissues i.e. If you liked this, you’ll like these:
The Wanton Bishops – Sleep With the Lights On
The Soledad Brothers – Soledad Brothers Live
T-Model Ford – Pee Wee Get My Gun
See you next week!
John F. Guido is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org