It is mesmerizing how, often, music that speaks directly to the heart of people like the Blues, it does not get the right recognition and appreciation for all that the genre always stood for and still stands nowadays.
It maybe not a Popular Music chart-friendly genre but, fundamentally, if there was no Blues, there could have been no Rock And Roll, something that it is so undisputed and the majority of Rock artists openly admit.
Blues is also one of those very rare music genres that, especially in its place of birth in the United States, it has been labelled since its early days in many different ways, depending by whether its sound was associated to artists coming from areas of the country like Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee or Texas, among other parts of the States.
But when it comes to the Mississippi Hill Country Blues, nobody has been able, in the last two decades, to perfectly translate, since the passing of torchbearers like R.L. Burnside or Junior Kimbrough, the traditions, the mood and the vibe that the genre carries within as well as Cedric Burnside.
Burnside, who is the grandson of who he loves to call "Big Daddy" R.L. Burnside, has been absent from the music scene for the past few years, partly due to personal family losses, until 2018, when the multi-instrumentalist artist from Mississippi artist has returned to the music scene with a stunning new record called Benton County Relic, an album that procured Burnside his second Grammy Nomination in his career so far.
Bluebird Reviews had the privilege to talk to Cedric Burnside about the making of the new album and what this new album and Mississippi Country Hill Blues really mean for him.
BR - Benton County Relic comes after your highly acclaimed 2015's album Descendants Of Hill Country and to us, it sounds like an album that photographs minutely this moment in time of your life and confirms you, once again, as one of the most naturally gifted blues players in the world. Is the new album something that you planned to sound in the way it came out from Day One or some of the songs changed their shapes and moods when you were recording in the studio?
CB – The album definitely sounds in the way I wanted it. I really wanted my music to sound just like the same way I grew up, as a musician. My Big Daddy’s music sounded raw and authentic back then, as Junior Kimbrough’s music did too and that is the way I wanted to sound like too, on Benton County Relic. That was the music I’ve been around for my whole life. I didn’t want the album to sound sugar coated in any other way, just raw and authentic. We went in the studio and in just two days, we recorded 26 tracks.
BR - On Benton County Relic you relieved yourself from drumming responsibilities, by leaving completely in charge your very good friend Brian Jay. After the last couple of records where you teamed up with that splendid musician that is Trenton Ayers, for the Cedric Burnside Project, how much of an impact do you feel that Brian's presence made on the new record, from a sonic point of view?
CB - Well, I have to say that Brian's presence was of a big impact to me, because I didn’t even think that it would have been possible for anybody just to come into the studio, to plug in and play this style of music with a rather unorthodox rhythm in the way he did. It is not something for anybody to be possible to play, I can assure you, but Brian did so splendidly. It was like a natural understanding between musicians, while we were in the studio. We just went there and when we started playing, it all clicked so fast and organically and when I heard him for the first time, he sounded so good that I said to myself “Wow”. It was great that we could join forces on this album in the way we did. I am very happy about the sonic outcome of the album. I wrote all the songs myself, apart of a couple and Brian Jay wrote one as well. Yeah, the outcome of the album was even better than I expected and it was kind of surprising but I was very happy about it.
BR - Cedric, this is an album that, through its lyrics, expresses loss, desire, pain, anger and love for life, pretty much summing up what you have been through in these last 3 years. Which of the album's songs has been the most challenging for you to write, emotionally speaking?
CB - You are most definitely right. Well, I’ve got to say, two songs in particular were more challenging than others, emotionally, for me to write. One was the song called Hard To Stay Cool and the other is We Made It. The reason why I am saying that is because, thinking about everything that happened in my life in the last three years and the way I grew up, as a kid and all the people that there was in my life at that time and not here with me right now, that created the platform for the song We Made It. Through that song, I just wanted for people to know where I come from, the journey I went through, which makes me part of who I am today, you know. That is a big part of who I am, trust me. I don’t take anything for grant, in life, because I grew up very very poor an so did a lot of my family. My brother, who passed in 2012, he grew up just like that too and so did my mother and my father. About Hard To Stay Cool, well, it’s that kind of song that makes me think about many things I have been through in life too and it is, to me that kind of song that everybody in the world can relate to, you know. Because there always comes a time in everybody’s life, when it gets very hard to remain cool. You know, I guess that, losing so many family members in a relatively short amount of time, has made me pretty rough around the edges and the reason why I wrote that song, ‘twas because I really wanted for people to be able to relate to it and to get that inevitable feeling that gets in everyone’s life, sooner or later. Because I can certainly say that I have been there and done that myself.
BR - From Hard To Stay Cool on, the album changes greatly its tone and its mood, digging very deeply into the heart and soul of Cedric Burnside, almost feeling like the first part and the second part of Benton County Relic symbolize two different sides of Cedric Burnside's personality. Did you write the songs of the album throughout the three years gap between your previous record and the new one or, rather, in a much shorter amount of time?
CB - We recorded the Benton County Relic album, as I said before, in two days and I wrote most of the songs in the studio, when we got in to record the album. I just had about three or four songs with me, before going to the studio and I wrote something like 6 songs on the spot, when Brian and I were there and I did it in one day.
Cedric Burnside - 2017 Circa (Courtesy Of Internet Archive)
BR - Can you reveal to us the reason behind the choice of the album's title, Cedric?
CB - Well, I have to say, the reason why I called the album that way, it was because I have been around a drum kit for as long as I can remember in my life. I started touring with my Big Daddy R.L. Burnside age 13 and then, when I was about 15 years-old, I was already touring with a bigger number of people like T-Model Ford, Paul "Wine" Jones, Junior Kimbrough and my Big Daddy, of course and every time I came back home from these tours, all my friends were telling me "Man, you sound like you are a 50 years-old man!", being probably influenced, personality wise, by all those men and musicians so much older than me that I was touring with at the time. That was the way I grew up. I grew up surrounded by people telling me that I had an ole soul, older than I was at my age. So when I write my music and people would hear it for the first time, they would all tell me "Wow, Man, your music sounds so ole and new at the same time!". So the idea of calling the album Benton County Relic, it was because I have an ole soul, you know (smiles).
BR - You have now a new management and a new record label (Single Lock Records) supporting your artistry and promoting your new album. Do you feel that the new Team behind you and the release of Benton County Relic are like a way of resetting your priorities about music and life in general?
CB - Oh, definitely, Man. For once, I've got a great Team behind me, something that I didn't have for a long, long time and I am very grateful for what they do for me. I am very proud to be with them and I truly appreciate the fact that they do not try and change or influence my music style in the slightest, like almost every label I have worked with in the past had tried to do, respecting the fact that the music, first and foremost, represents who I am. At my new label, they let me be myself and they are such a great Team. They do a great job in many different ways and they certainly changed my life for the best, as a musician.
BR - Just when we thought that you couldn't wear more your heart on your sleeves in any of your songs like you did on There Is So Much, on Benton County Relic, then the following track Call On Me just hit us emotionally so much, with those strong lyrics about the importance of family. That, to us, is among the best songs you have ever written, sang and played in your career to date. Can you tell us a bit more, please, about the idea behind Call On Me?
CB - Thank you so much for your kind words. The reason why I wrote that song, Call On Me, it was because, as you know, I travel a lot for music purposes and having three daughters, I just wanted them to know that I just don't travel around and play my music just for the fans but I do for them as well. As you can imagine, I don't get to spend a lot of time with my daughters, while I am touring, but it was important for me to let them know that, if they need me, when I am away from home, they can always reach out for me anytime, because I'll always be there for them.
Cedric Burnside at The Grammys 2019 (Courtesy Of Internet Archive)
BR - When our website met Bernard Allison and Samantha Fish in recent times, they both referred to you as their Soul Brother and someone that they deeply love and respect. Why, in your opinion, now more than ever, the Blues is the musical genre that better symbolizes true brotherhood not just between artists and fans but also between artists themselves?
CB - You know, I don't think that I am the only guy that grew up in the world in the way I did and I like to think that, like me, other artists out there have shared the same stories, using the music as a way not just to express their artistry but also to express their passion and love for music, no matter whether it is called Chicago Blues or Memphis Blues, the passion and love of the artists playing that music will be exactly the same. Bernard Allison is definitely somebody that has that passion and the strong drive for the Blues, just as well as his dad Luther had. Luther was certainly one of the greatest guitar players I can ever remember. And Samantha Fish.. Man, I have been watching her playing since we were kids and she always carried that love for the Blues. I don't know a whole lot about Samantha's background or the way she grew up but one thing I know for sure, it is that she has been loving the Hill Country Blues for a long time and I am sure that the Hill Country Blues made a big impact on the great way she plays the Blues today, you know. I love both those kids (Bernard and Samantha) a lot, Man and hopefully, we can do something together in the future.
BR - What would have Cedric Burnside's life without the Blues?
CB - You know, that is a good question, Man. I never thought about it too much but I know for sure that, what I am, is because of the influence of the Hill Country Blues made to my life and that it is all I know and ever knew since I was a kid and something that has been around all my life. I don't really know how the world would be, without Cedric Burnside playing the Hill Country Blues, Man (laughs)!