Chris Cotton

I Watched the Devil Die

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Ask a group of musicologists what type of music Leadbelly performed, and you're likely to get different responses. Some will categorize his work as folk; others will say Southern country blues. Truth be told, Leadbelly was both of those things -- he was as relevant to folk as Woody Guthrie; he was as relevant to Southern county blues as Charley Patton, Son House, or Robert Johnson. Like Leadbelly, Chris Cotton is clearly an example of an artist whose material has as much to do with folk as it does with the type of rugged, pre-World War II country blues that Patton, House, and Johnson were known for -- and he also gets some inspiration from bluegrass, Appalachian music, and old-time country. I Watched the Devil Die is a very raw, unpretentious, and raggedy album; Cotton obviously identifies -- quite strongly, in fact -- with the earthiest sounds of the '20s, '30s, and '40s. There isn't the slightest hint of slickness on this 2004 recording; nor is there a trace of irony -- and the singer/guitarist is as expressive on his own songs as he is on down-home performances of Blind Willie McTell's "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," Mississippi John Hurt's "Louis Collins," the standard "Bill Bailey," and Skip James' "I'm So Glad" (a tune that many lovers of '60s British Invasion rock associate with Cream). When I Watched the Devil Die is playing, it is evident that Cotton would have no problem telling you what Woody Guthrie had in common with Blind Lemon Jefferson or what Sleepy John Estes had in common with Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, and Bill Monroe. Lovers of roots music can't go wrong with this excellent CD.

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