Bobby Rush has been making records for just short of half a century, and if he hasn't become a household name, he's certainly the king of his own particular hill. Rush's wild mixture of soul, blues, and funk, along with his vivid and sometimes raunchy storytelling, has made him the leading star on the modern chitlin circuit, playing working-class nightspots in primarily African-American communities in the South and Midwest. Rush is a showman with plenty of swagger, a tough but effective vocal style, and a gift for putting his own breed of down-home surrealism to classic blues and R&B tropes. Ever since he was prominently featured in the PBS documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues -- A Musical Journey in 2003, Rush's visibility among blues fans has been on the rise, and 2016's Porcupine Meat, his first album for Rounder Records, sounds like an effort to make Rush a bit more palatable to mainstream blues fans. Thankfully, producer Scott Billington has given Rush's music a new level of studio polish without robbing him of his personality or his signature sound, and if he's paired Rush up with a few guest stars (including Joe Bonamassa and Keb' Mo'), he's also put together a studio band that navigates his deeply Southern sound with a strong but easy groove. On numbers like "Nighttime Gardener," "Catfish Stew," and the title cut, Rush's adventures with the opposite sex are as crazy as ever (especially when he compares a woman to "Porcupine Meat" -- "too fat to eat, too lean to throw away"). When Rush takes on more straight-ahead blues material like "Got Me Accused" and "I'm Tired," he's got a stubborn fire that sets him apart from most folks trading in the 12-bar. And on "I Don't Want Nobody Hanging Around" and "Funk o' de Funk," Rush cuts a dancefloor-filling groove that's especially impressive coming from a man of 83. Porcupine Meat isn't Bobby Rush at his strongest or wildest, but as a piece of record-making, it's one of his best albums in ages, and hardly sounds like the work of a man who has been doing this since the mid-'60s -- it's fresh, funky, and fun.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming