An 82-year-young man and his harp backed by a crew of crack Louisiana musicians, a couple guest spots from some heavy hitters, and a horn section to blow the wings of an angel is the secret recipe for the latest funked up soul blues of the legend himself, Bobby Rush. His debut release on Rounder finds “The King of the Chitlin’ Circuit” as spry as a hoppergrass with a dozen songs destined for the juke joint, car stereo, or goodtime at home—move the furniture to the lawn and have at it.
Firing things off with a warning shot of sorts with album opener “I Don’t Want Nobody Hanging Around”, the shuffle shows off Rush’s harmonica blowing with a fervor. His creative word play is always entertaining, but the funk seals this deal with the five piece horn section all but throwing a match on gasoline. Moving swiftly into the title track finds us a laid back groove to set back into, fancifully bedazzled with more brass and the catchiest chorus from a blues record since Rush’s own golden 1971 ditty “Chicken Heads”: “It’s like porcupine meat / Too fat to eat, too lean to through away.” Rush waxes poetic on the phrase, “If a lady won’t treat me right, but she doesn’t want anyone else to have me, that is hard to digest.”
Rush’s blues revel more on the soulful side, propagating a laid back edge well versed in R&B and the country blues I worship out of the hill country of Mississippi. What’s left is refreshing and left of center. No driving one-chord melodies relying on the fat strings as a bass line, no, Rush’s blues are cleaner, a layered symphony of simple sounds meticulously rolled into one common groove. The definition of keep it simple, stupid. Even guest spots on lead guitar by the great Dave Alvin and Keb’ Mo’ and, dare I even type this, Joe Bonamassa are tastefully procured. A tasteful job of incorporating solos from two of the best in the game and one that has no business being mentioned in the same sentence as Bobby Rush. Bonamassa does appear on a personal favorite, “Me, Myself, and I”, so maybe I should let my guard down a little—or not.
Rush has come a long way since building his first guitar as a country boy growing up in Louisiana. He’s worked with what reads like any blues aficionado’s dream list—Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon, and Little Walter—no doubt lifting some harp licks from the latter and making them his own. Rush even held a residency at the Jackrabbit during a tenure of residing in Little Rock, AK with the great Elmore James playing guitar in the band. Emmet Ellis, Jr. adopted the stage name of Bobby Rush in honor of his preacherman father, although much was not made about the blues being the so-called “devil’s music”. “My daddy never told me to sing the blues, but he also didn’t tell me to not sing the blues. I took that as a greenlight.” Thank the good Lord for that in spades.
Chock full of delicacies, Porcupine Meat is a succulent record. “Catfish Stew” and the title track aside, morsels like “I Think Your Dress Is Too Short”, “It’s Your Move”, “Standing on Shaky Ground”, and the endless head nodding to the schizophrenic build-up of the penultimate track “I’m Tired” leaves you just that, like you’ve just sweat out all the bullshit of the work week in the last 57 minutes of record—true story. A throwback for the ages, long live Bobby Rush and his funked up soul blues.