Having a tangible structure to a show may seem too premeditated for artistic endeavour to be truly appreciated, but tonight in this wonderful church venue in Chester’s city centre, Cedric Burnside and his compatriot Brian Jay deliver an evening of North Mississippi Country Blues that intentionally intensifies as it progresses, the outcome clearly justifying the Grammy nomination received for his latest record Benton County Relic. Indeed, it’s amusing to think that just seven days ago, Burnside was suited and booted for the ceremony at the Staples Center in Los Angeles considering his more antiquated, ecclesiastical surroundings tonight.
He opens the show solo and seated and demonstrates the skillful fingerstyle acoustic guitar work reminiscent of his legendary grandfather R.L Burnside for the first handful of songs. Despite being seated there is still an abundance of energy about the performance and the knowledgeable and respectful crowd are hugely appreciative of this material during this first third of the show. He tells a cracking joke after a couple of songs which is too long to be reproduced here, but it also contributes to the warm and responsive atmosphere inside the church!
After these more stripped back renditions, Burnside begins to add texture to proceedings including the mournful tones of a harmonica before he stands and goes electric. This middle section of the evening is complimented by Brian Jay on the drums and builds dramatically before an emphatic denouement results in a broken string for Burnside and whether planned or not, he swaps places with Jay behind the drum kit for the final third of the evening.
This seems to be where Cedric Burnside looks and sound most at home. Much of his musical schooling came in this very position when he began touring with his grandaddy from the age of thirteen. He has also been awarded four Blues Music Awards for this very role, but this time he’s performing his own highly-acclaimed material. It’s easy to see why those Grammy folk nominated Benton County Relic. The songs are brooding and satisfyingly irregular in style and Brian Jay’s sullied tones on guitar contribute to the authenticity of the evening that is a step or two removed from the sounds one might expect from a more generic interpretation of the Blues. That’s what makes North Mississippi Country Blues so interesting and Burnside is playing from experience.
As we head towards the end of the evening, certain songs add a bit of swing to proceedings prompting the crowd to dance; the pace increases, as does the intensity of Jay’s rasping guitar and Burnside’s textured, passionate drumming. There’s an audible display of disappointment when the house lights go up but Roman Candle Promotions can be incredibly proud of this particular show. It’s been a real coup for them and the city of Chester to welcome one of the best and most authentic proponents of such a distinctive genre performing today.
Words & Images by Iain Fox