Veteran bluesman Bobby Rush is in fine form with his latest full length, Down in Louisiana. The singer/guitarist has released some two dozen albums since his 1979 debut Rush Hour, and his career has been marked by a steady string of fine albums. Having been nominated for a Grammy award for his 2000 album Hoochie Man, as well as Blues Music Awards for his 2007 effort Raw, Rush is a musician who remains surprisingly unfamiliar to many blues aficianados. With a bit of luck, this new record will change some of that.
Down in Louisiana kicks off with the toe-tapping title track, a spry number that features some cajun spice in the form of accordian accompaniment, but mainly making use of Rush’s two outstanding features: his numble guitar playing and rich, bellow baritone. Both elements crop up throughout the record, and both are in effect for the follow-up number “You Just Like a Dresser”, which offers a classic blues double entendre about a cheatin’ woman: “You just like a dresser / Somebody’ always in your drawers”.
The bulk of the tunes here are uptempo numbers, equally suited to shimmying on the dance floor or (ahem) driving down the highway at slightly faster than the speed limit. Of these, “Tight Money” is a standout, with a midtempo shuffle and sashaying rhythm that complements Rush’s pithy observations on life clinging on at the poverty line. “Raining in My Heart” is another strong tune, a tale of woe tempered by the hope that the sun will shine again one day. “Rock This House”, as one might expect, is pleasantly rocking, a lively instrumental whose frisky guitar rhythms underpin Rush’s fluid solo work and the welcome addition of some harmonica honking.
When Rush does slow down, which isn’t often, the results are equally good, maybe even better. “Don’t You Cry” is a rare lackluster song whose repetitive lyrics get tiresome before the song is halfway through, but this is balanced by “What Is the Blues”, probably the best song on the album. Rush moans and snarls his way through the track, his scrappy guitar mimicking his tone of woeful defiance: “The blues ain’t nothing”, he protests, and the listener understands both that he means this, and that he means anything but. The blues, of course, is everything.
After this late-album highlight, the mischievous “Bowlegged Woman” is a bit of a throwaway, but album closer “Swing Low” is one more great song, a low-key gospel blues tune that closes out the proceedings on a note that is neither dance-floor-ready nor hopelessly grim. Like all the best gospel music, it reminds the listener of larger concerns, while also affirming that one’s place has meaning within the context of those concerns.
Blues fans who are unaware of Rush’s ouevre, or who perhaps have not checked in on him for some years, owe it to themselves to give a listen. For that matter, non-blues fans will find much to like here as well: a diversity of sounds and styles, a range of lyrical material, and a warm, engaging vocalist. Rush has been at this game for nearly 35 years, and if his reputation is only now starting to expand outside of hardcore blues circles, well, better late than never.