Well Well Well

R.L. Burnside

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Well Well Well Review

by Todd Kristel

At first glance, this archival collection may appear to be too much of a hodge-podge. The recording dates range from 1986 to 1993; the locations range from a large theater in The Hague to a shotgun house in New Orleans; the lineups range from solo performances by Burnside to trio sessions with Jon Morris and Calvin Jackson; and the songs range from Burnside originals to blues classics by Muddy Waters ("Can't Be Satisfied"), John Lee Hooker ("Boogie Chillen'"), Big Joe Williams ("Mellow Peaches"), and others. However, the material coheres fairly well despite the scattershot nature of this collection. Burnside's performances are relatively consistent in both quality and musical style; he sticks to straightforward blues without the hip-hop and techno elements found on some of his other recordings, and his dry sense of humor helps unify the music with the spoken word portions of the album. The one-minute interview segment (in which Burnside discusses fishing and guitar playing) and 93-second in-concert monologue (about a girl who saw him eat grass from her front lawn) fit comfortably next to the songs, and the bull-session atmosphere of "Bad Luck Money Rap" (in which he tells Morris and vocalist/harp player Curtis Salgado about certain things that make him so mad he could eat fried chicken) is compatible with the relaxed, informal feel of the album, although at six minutes and 30 seconds it's too long of an intermission from the music. Some of the album's highlights include a powerful rendition of "Staggolee" with explicit lyrics that ensure that this traditional tune is "not suitable for airplay"; a short but sweet performance of the Lightnin' Hopkins song "Mojo Hand"; a live version of Burnside's own ".44 Pistol" recorded at the Queen Street Playhouse in Charleston, SC; a recording of his signature song, "Goin' Down South," with Morris and Jackson at a shed in Gieterveen, Holland; and a performance of "How Many More Years" in Athens, Greece, that proves that Burnside really can sing and play the blues, even though his vocals don't have the overpowering intensity of Howlin' Wolf's original version.

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