Listen Up: Wednesday, October 10, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
CeDell Davis and Friends

When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine (Fast Horse Recordings)

By Ken Shimamoto

The Helena, Ark.-Denton-Seattle connection? It seems unlikely, but that’s exactly what happened here with CeDell Davis’ When Lightnin’ Struck the Pine.

A native of Helena, stomping grounds of blues-harp master Sonny Boy Williamson II before he decamped for Chicago, Davis is part of the posse of ultra-raw electrified Delta bluesmen associated with the Mississippi-based Fat Possum label. While less lyrically outrageous than stablemates R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford, Davis plays a minimalist style that’s bound to offend listeners whose exposure to blues is limited to Stevie Ray and his imitators. Sorry, kids — no hot solos here.

Last year, Davis visited the Metroplex and recorded this album in Dallas and Denton for Fast Horse, the label founded by Brave Combo drummer Joe Cripps and his counterpart in Seattle’s Screaming Trees, Barrett Martin. Also on hand were Martin’s Tuatura bandmate, Peter Buck (better known for his higher profile work with REM) and Scott McCaughey from Seattle’s Young Fresh Fellows (who’s also toured as a backing musician with REM).

None of those pedigrees would mean anything to Davis, who plays chaotic, at-times atonal slide guitar with a knife or bottleneck and sings mostly garbled lyrics to a loping beat. Unlike some of the execrable ancient-blues-master-with-young-acolytes recordings that came out of the 1960s blues boom or even Burnside’s deranged Fat Possum collaboration with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (1996’s A Ass Pocket of Whiskey), the backing musicians on this set respect the featured artist’s groove and don’t try to inject their own personalities into the proceedings.

This is the blues at its most primitive, sounding at times like a more-inebriated Jimmy Reed or perhaps a reanimated Hound Dog Taylor on Vicodin. It’s the kind of music that would sound good while you’re sloppy drunk in a Mississippi roadhouse.


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