Veteran bluesman hits a plateau
New Orleans legend Bobby Rush is a pretty great bluesman, a vocalist with a gritty, expressive voice who can belt it out when he needs to or bring things way way down, soft and quiet and slow. His 2013 album Down in Louisiana was a fine piece of work, and it figures that follow-up album Decisions would be strong as well, especially given its range of guest stars include none other than Dr. John himself. Alas, Decisions is only a good album, not a great one, its strong songs undermined by a handful of weaker tracks, and its tiresome ditties about women (Bobby Rush wants you to know that he likes them big) garnering increasingly diminishing returns.
Let’s start with the good news first: leadoff track “Another Murder in New Orleans” is a skronking, mid-tempo barn-burner of a tune, a gumbo of scratchy guitar, tinkling piano, soulful vocals, horns and harmony. For anyone even remotely familiar with the troubled state of that great city in recent years, it’s tough not to be moved.
There are other good tunes too. Title track “Decisions” chugs along at a deliberate pace, and Rush’s vocals suit the tune perfectly, as a clever vocal bounces along above the gurgling churn of guitar, organ and bass. “If That’s The Way You Like It, I Like It” is an uptempo dance-blues number with plenty of horns and bounce, and a welcome change of pace from the album’s early gloom. Acoustic closer “Too Much Weekend” has some nifty harmonica complementing the rock-solid fingerpicking, and plays with the classic trope of calling in sick at work because, frankly, you’ve got better things to do. It’s both sonically engaging and lyrically playful, and what’s more it’s classic blues to the core:”“I’m not drunk, but I sure been drinking”.
Elsewhere, though, the woman-centric nature of the subject matter grows tedious. It starts with “Bobby Rush’s Bus” (in which we learn that Bobby Rush likes his women big), continues on with “Funky Old Man”, where we learn that Bobby still likes the ladies a whole lot, and then hits its nadir with “Skinny Little Women” (in which we are reminded once more that, yes, Bobby Rush likes ‘em big). Amazingly, that nadir is followed by the even deeper nadir – is such a thing possible? – of “Dr Rush”, in which Bobby Rush raps. You might want to read that last sentence again. Bobby Rush, bluesman, sets himself up as a telephone relationship advisor, in which he helps men out with their women problems, in the hip-hop style so beloved of the kids these days. It’s presumably tongue-in-cheek, but still. Moreover, it will surprise few listeners as this point that many of Dr Rush’s solutions involve giving more food to the various problematic women, so they get nice and fat. This is boring.
It’s a shame, because the musicianship on this record is smoking hot, with Rush’s voice tying everything together – and the man can play the guitar like nobody’s business as well. Overall, though, this is a tough record to recommend.