Various Artists

Darker Blues

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Fat Possum is easily the most important blues label to emerge in American since the 1960s. It has no concern whatsoever for being a museum piece documenting the latter day Delta Bluesmen and their music, so much as it is an ongoing, shambolically run business concern that is interested in getting the music of these men out so others can hear it, and hopefully get their artists paid. For all the stuff written about the music coming out of juke joints and country house rent parties, this stuff is alive, full of pathos, danger, and dark sexy fun. For fans of the apocalypse era Delta blues, Darker Blues as an artifact is essential as a collection of music, and as cultural lore. Darker Blues is a Fat Possum coffee table book, of all things. It is loaded with photographs, including many close-ups of the label's stable artists with accompanying text in their own unedited words. In these men's faces you can see the true harshness of the last century revealed without flinching or politeness. In these pictures you can see a kind of acceptance about life that most of us can't fathom -- let alone acknowledge or assent to. They're all here, from the late, great Junior Kimbrough to R.L. Burnside and CeDell Davis, to T-Model Ford, Elmo Williams, Hezekiah Early, and Asie Payton. Fat Possum's younger generation, including Paul "Wine" Jones, Kenny Brown, Johnny Farmer, and hoodoo acoustic bluesman Robert Belfour are also present, as well as some of the outer limits artists it has signed, like Bob Log III and 20 Miles. As for the music, there are two CDs included. The first is an overview of the label and its stable, and includes not only music by the aforementioned artists (including some vintage recordings between Junior and Charlie Feathers, Mississippi Fred McDowell from 1967, and Robert Pete Williams from 1970). Disc Two features seven new tracks by R.L. Burnside in a variety of settings, from full-on band hell-raising to solo acoustic, and virtually everything in between (Including one track with DJ Mike E. Clark scratching through R.L) the already raucous mix. Big Legal Mess put this baby out, and it remains the coolest book of its kind. Southern badass author Barry Hannah writes a killer essay to kick it off and place this music, its view, and its place in a cultural perspective that is fresh and completely free of white boy guilt. Darker Blues is something to reckon with.

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