BY FRED MILLS
Whoa—where did this slide-guit slingin’, north Mississippi blooze-wranglin’ dude come from? Although Markus James has been known in the blues world since the early ‘90s, his press notices ramped up significantly commencing with 2005’s award-winning documentary Timbuktoubab and his 2008 album Snakeskin Violin, both of which featured him collaborating with Malian musicians. This time around he’s rounded up a musical crew from the Mississippi Hill Country that includes Junior Kimbrough’s son Kinney Kimbrough, Kimbrough/R.L. Burnside sideman Calvin Jackson and folks who’ve worked with Otha Turner, Jessie Mae Hemphill and John Lee Hooker. The results are no less trance-inducing than his west Africa-inspired recordings, but there’s also a primal grittiness here that’ll send chills down your spine.
Case in point: “Gone Like Tomorrow,” which unfolds on a bed of hypnotic, neo-tribal drumming as James unleashes wraithlike resonator guitar licks and sings in a high, keening voice reminiscent of both Chris Whitley and Rainer Ptacek at their atmospheric best. “A shadow at midnight,” he moans, “or dreams at midday,” and it’s clear that this man has had a hellhound on his trail for some time now and has ultimately become resigned to his fate. Elsewhere there’s straight up gutbucket boogie that’ll be familiar to fans of the North Mississippi All Stars (“Just Say Yes”), traditional acoustic folk-blues (“Sleepyhead,” featuring a compelling modal chord progression and the sound of crickets at dusk playing in the background) and grinding, stomping meat-and-potatoes rawk (“Woke Me”—“woke up this morning/ the sky was bleedin’ red”). Throw in a sinewy, vibrato-drenched cover of Burnside’s signature anthem “Goin’ Down South” and you’ve got what’s destined to be judged one of the top blues releases of 2014 come year’s end.
Where the fuck did this James muhfuh come from? ‘Tis not up to us to question such matters when something is so obviously the devil’s work….
DOWNLOAD: “Head For the Hills,” “Woke Me,” “Gone Like Tomorrow”