FAT POSSUM (FP10112)
Hadn't I Been Good To You? Old Buck, I Know I Done You Wrong, I Got Something To Tell You, I'll Do Anything You Say, Alone For A Long Time, Movin' Out Movin' In, Down The Road Of Love, Same Man, Goin' Through The Woods, Remember Me.
Fat Possum boss, Matthew Johnson has the rare talent for searching out musicians who, unknown outside their immediate area, are mostly untouched by modern influences. These bluesmen are real rarities, and getting rarer. I'm talking about the genuine article here - someone that has really lived the hard blues life. Someone holed up in the backwoods of North Mississippi who's been playing in late night dives and juke joints and drinking far too much for far too long. Someone who never did figure out what had happened the morning he woke up in a brand new suit he'd never seen before. Someone like Charles Caldwell - who lived only eleven miles away from Matthew Johnson and wasn't discovered until May of 2002. Only to die a year later.
When Johnson first met Caldwell, he was amazed to hear someone playing straight country blues the way it's supposed to be done. Caldwell said "You say you been in Water Valley for three years and you're only just now comin' to hear me? Where the hell you been?" Well, to his credit Johnson had spent that time putting out records by RL Burnside and Robert Belfour and reissuing stuff by Fred McDowell and Joe Callicot and a whole load of other highly significant stuff. Anyway, Matthew asked if he wanted to make a record. Hell, yeah he sure did and what a record it turned out to be! When it was finished they were beside themselves - Matthew Johnson convinced that it was the best thing he'd produced in many years.
Here's what it's about. Charles sings and plays a hollow-bodied Gibson 135 plugged into a big fat amp. He plays solo on some tracks and uses various drummers on others. No bass but the drums are very important to Caldwell's music. "I Know I Done You Wrong" is particularly fascinating. Charles lays out a threatening lick utilising buzzing bass strings and clanging top strings while the drummer keeps silent until it's time for the vocal line, and then he steps in with some fancy trick using the brushes and atmospheric whacks on the cymbals. Caldwell bellows out his misery in a resigned, hollow, hoarse howl of hopelessness that is both scary and spine-chilling. If David Lynch or the Coen Brothers ever make a film that needs a blues song in it, they should pick this one.
One of the drummers is Spam who is admired by Fat Possum supporters for his crazy, knocked-out sense of rhythm and dangerously psychotic lifestyle and it's Spam who helps generate some of the most thrilling moments on this CD. They come at various points during "Same Man" where the drums and guitar drop right into sync with each other and create a hypnotic droning beat that raises your heartbeat by several notches before Caldwell prevents your cardiac arrest by somehow getting the whole thing back on track again. The entire album is riddled with glorious sounds like this. For instance, listen to "Old Buck" where Spam slaps the hell outta the snare drum while Charles turns the amp up to meltdown and just plain choogles, making the whole thing sound like an extended country stomp which is, I suppose, just what it is.
"I'll Do Anything You Say" has a broken-up-bo-diddley-beat that is perfect for Charles to crank out his you-don't-love-me riffs while "Movin' Out Movin' In" is a stomper, with boogie guitar pumping out over a drummer who sounds like he'd loved to have played on Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women".
The solo vocals and guitar tracks are just as exciting as those with drums. Crank up "Down The Road Of Love" and relish the sharp, slicing guitar sound resonating all over the place leaving just enough space between those barbed wire guitar lines for Charles to bawl out the song. It's very simple but mighty effective stuff. On another solo piece "I Got Something To Tell You", Charles's rhythmic snapping of the treble strings and over-amplified bass notes provides all the percussion this track needs.
Honestly, every track on this CD is brimming with music that is as raw, unvarnished and charismatic as Charles Caldwell is himself. His music has all the power and glory that blues has to offer and it's captured for you and me on this precious little piece of plastic.
Review Date: January 2009