Cedric Burnside’s world tour promoting his latest album, Benton County Relic, brought him to London as part of this year’s Future Juke Festival. Cedric is of course the grandson of RL Burnside and steeped in the family’s North Mississippi hill-country blues traditions. He’s also noted for playing drums alongside Samuel L. Jackson in some of the funkiest scenes of the film Black Snake Moan.
The show was opened by South London estuary blues trio Jimmy Regal And The Royals who play hard-driving, mainly harmonica blues very much in the Little Walter meets Dr Feelgood style. I only saw about half of the band’s set but they were at their best when Joff Watkins was blowing his harmonica into a valve microphone on Little Walter’s Last Night as CJ Williams’ guitar really drove it along. It was good to hear a proper blues rock trio really getting the place going.
The main support was from Todd Allbright who’s promoting his most recent album, Detroit Twelve String Blues & Rags on Jack White‘s Third Man Records. He’s a blues scholar who plays almost exclusively pre-World War II blues songs on his 12-string acoustic.
Allbright opened his set with a cool version of Leadbelly’s Sweet Mary Blues that showed just how good a 12-string player he is and that he was going to be picking some great old songs. Of course, as with many of these old blues classics, the song’s lyrics are full of double meanings and Allbright’s performance was straight enough that you might have missed them.
After asking if any of us had ever taken opium or knew anyone with that habit, Allbright sang the wonderful My Money Never Runs Out. His rendition was a little more stripped back than the Blind Blake version I’m more familiar with, but the song’s message of how drugs will drain all your money will probably stay relevant forever.
Allbright, who loves to sip from his giant cup of tea between songs, went back to Leadbelly’s catalogue after explaining that Leaving Blues was one of only four songs released from a week-long session where the blues legend cut over 200 songs. The singer made his guitar chime like that train leaving that station once more and by this point had grabbed almost everyone’s attention.
He then gave us a little bit of the history of Blind Willie McTell’s life and the tale contained in the dark-as-they-come song that is Stomp Down Rider. Allbright stayed with Blind Willie for a glorious version of Delia that got deep into the heartbreak at the song’s core.
What followed was more Blind Willie McTell and another dark tale from the 1920s, Kill It Kid, which brought to life the agony of teenage murder, a topic that’s still sadly all too relevant. With some very intense picking and the wonderful tone he was getting from his twelve string, Allbright certainly left us wanting to hear more of not only these old blues songs, but the stories behind them.
Cedric Burnside, who played the first part of his set solo on an acoustic guitar, began with the impassioned love song Don’t Leave Me Girl, a great lovesick blues song that showed off his nice, honeyed tone.
He took us to the darker side of the “Hill Country” with Death Bell Blues, which was good and chilling. But Burnside seems to be more of a lover at heart, which was why he had such a wide smile on his face during Love Her Till She Dies as he wrung all the emotion from his guitar.
Just Like A Woman felt almost sleazy with a great funky guitar lick, before Burnside told us the story at the heart of Shame And Scandal In The Family, the old Calypso song that was a hit for everyone from The Skatalites and Trini Lopez to the comic actor Lance Perceval. Despite its familiarity, this tale of infidelity remained undeniably funny in the way Burnside told it.
Comedy interlude over, Burnside brought back Todd Allbright to play acoustic guitar, while he provided rhythm by slapping his thighs and stomping his feet on a wonderful version of the Ranie Burnette song Coal Black Mattie that he’d learnt from RL Burnside. It was a song RL had played with his “uncle” and mentor Ranie and those recordings are well worth seeking out.
For the second third of the set, Burnside brought Brian Jay on to play drums, while he switched to electric guitar. The first song they played was a tribute to RL Burnside he wrote with Lighting Malcolm. This really upped the power and energy both onstage and in the audience as suddenly lots of us started grooving and moving like we were in a “juke joint”.
The passion and pain in Burnside’s vocals on I’m Hurtin’ didn’t stop it from having a deeply funky rhythm and Jay’s drumming added to the heart torn apart feel.
For the final third of the set, the guitarist and drummer swapped places and instruments. They both stepped up the intensity to another level on Give It To You, which was so powerful it felt like they wanted to throw the crowd up against a wall. They finished the set with a blistering, sweaty version of All Night Long that had everyone dancing and gyrating their worries away.
After great applause, they returned for an encore, grinding their way through RL Burnside’s Skinny Woman. We were left in no doubt that they prefer women who aren’t skinny at all as Burnside grinned and thanked us for coming to see them play a great set of Mississippi blues.
Live Review by Simon Phillips. Photography by Simon Jay Price & Simon Philips of Cedric Burnside, Todd Albright, and Jimmy Regal And The Royals at Dingwalls on 4th June 2019. Part of the Future Juke series of 21st Century Blues.