R.L. Burnside

First Recordings

It’s a small miracle that music built more or less on five notes or their various octaves can be so endlessly entertaining. Such were the creative abilities of Oxford, Miss.-born bluesman R.L. Burnside in 1968, when he recorded these 14 cuts using little more than an acoustic guitar and his voice—reedier than the deep, weathered sound on his records since the early 1990s, but no less emotive. All of the material here is drawn from the blues canon, yet Burnside expertly mixes rhythms and phrasing from tune to tune and adds the odd element to keep things sounding fresh—clopping foot stomps on “Poor Black Mattie” and a slide bar on “Walkin’ Blues.” And cuts such as the slow-dragging, guitar and voice call-and-response number “Just Like a Bird Without a Feather” sparkle in Burnside’s idiosyncratic touch.