Bobby Rush is such a veteran, he has even created his own style, folk-funk, for which the component parts are obvious. After 50-plus years in the game, both his resurgence and ongoing popularity were rewarded with a 2014 Grammy nomination. On his new collection, Decisions, he teams up with Wyoming-via-California band Blinddog Smokin’ who complement Rush’s vocals and add plenty of their own soul and emotion to the proceedings.
Rush’s journey has taken him from his Louisiana roots to Chicago, and, during the 1970s, the chitlin circuit, on which he found an audience for his more outlandish, bawdy performances. A wide range of releases followed, on different labels, and after somewhat of a lull, he returned in the mid-‘90s, and hasn’t looked back since, with a multitude of albums on his own imprint (Deep Rush) and others.
His sound, at least on the evidence of Decisions, has never settled on any one thing, offering blues, funk, folk and even dashes of hip-hop. His output varies from the slower, painful “Another Murder in New Orleans”, which features Dr John, through the pacier title track, where the interesting interplay with the band is first felt, to the funky, retro “Bobby Rush’s Bus”, which starts off sounding like an early-2000s Snoop Dogg cast-off, before giving the players a chance to show off in a series of solos. The track undoubtedly evokes the feel of Rush’s live shows, as does much of the record.
When Rush is feeling it, the album hits. “Funky Old Man” certainly does funk, and certainly does roll. Blinddog make very good account of themselves again and again, especially on this track, and Rush is his swaggering self, but shows a humorous side to his work. “Stand Back” is a masterstroke, with a fuller sound reminiscent of Santana which is lively and involving, with searing guitar, drums and percussion. The song ventures away from the blues/funk blueprint, with echoes of salsa and rock.
However, some of what might go down a treat in Rush’s live sets comes across as more offensive than risqué on record. The bluesy “Skinny Little Woman”, and especially the hip-hop interlude of “Dr. Rush” may be in character, and may be meant to be jocular, but –- and there is not getting around this—still feel offensive to women. Whether the sentiments of these pieces are accepted by Rush’s fans I cannot say, but can equally be viewed as unnecessarily crude, adding little to the record as a whole.
“Too Much Weekend” has a more interesting, acoustic sound, and its ode to overindulgence is humorously dealt with, with a backing that builds and pays off in a strong, dynamic way. “Sittin’ Here Waitin’” rounds off the album nicely, with a bluesy punch, and an arrangement which brings out the funk in Rush’s music.
Overall, Decisions is good if not great, a record where the touches of brilliance provided by Blinddog Smokin’ are rather overshadowed by moments of theatrical sexism and some rather plodding, overly retro offerings. There are some extremely powerful peaks, but Decisions is also not without its troughs.