Chaos Theory

R.L. Burnside's indestructible hill-country blues

Yet Burnside is his own unreconstructed man, even more primitive than Hooker, who has been known to employ two or three chords to Burnside's typical one. The wonder is that Burnside's effect is anything but monotonous. He uses subtle rhythmic shifts to link the parts of his songs together where many players rely on melody, and in this he is like a one-man James Brown band. He makes rough music, often fueled by corn liquor, yet it repays close attention.

Burnside's influences peep through in flashes, and they are as likely to be McDowell or Hopkins as automatic guns and crack, the big-city evils that have spread southward now. (Burnside is pictured on the cover of Too Bad Jim with his blue-eyed dog Buck. The pet, he says, was killed near his home in a drive-by shooting.) His brew is rural but not bucolic. Palmer likens it to post-relativity physics, which tells us the universe is governed by laws so subtle it only seems chaotic. Burnside is a little drier. "I guess it's just a gift."

Last October, Burnside and Kimbrough played a lamentably ill-attended date at the Rhythm Room on Fat Possum's first showcase tour. A few dozen fans were treated to more than two and a half hours of bewitching, bone-crushing electric blues. You could almost taste the moonshine served in mason jars. It was so deep, it was beyond avant-garde. Jon Spencer would have been a fish out of water that night.

The Fat Possum Mississippi Juke Joint Revue, featuring R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Paul "Wine" Jones, is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, January 1, at the Rhythm Room. Showtime is 9 p.m.

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