Catawampus: The Blues, as You Have Never Heard Them Before
As the saying goes, there are two sides to every story.
One side of the story regarding Catawampus, the debut release by The Cornbread Project, involves an idea for a fresh approach to the blues. The Cornbread Project is comprised of musicians/producers Laust “Krudtmejer” Nielsen (Krudtmejer Productions, “Trainman Blues”) and Peter Nande (Straight Shooter Productions). Their concept: Apply contemporary music production techniques – samples, loops, beats, etc., as found in R&B, hip-hop, reggae and dancehall – to themes from traditional blues and roots music. For about half the songs on this album, Nielsen and Nande pulled vocal and instrumental tracks from unreleased recordings that Nande had on hand from a variety of gifted artists, including James Harman and Big Creek Slim. The pair built the remaining songs from the ground up with new recordings. Then, Nielsen applied his musical ideas and production magic to the performances to elevate the songs to a place they’d never been before.
That was the concept in action. Why title the album Catawampus? Simply, it’s a term for something that’s out of alignment, askew, and the tracks on this recording often fit that description. This is not your typical, predictable blues album. It’s more than a little off-kilter, in the best way possible.
Now that you have the concept clear in your mind, forget about it, because Catawampus is not a cerebral experience. The title word also describes something fierce, a dark force of reckoning, and this album is one that you feel, not think about. It’s a visceral experience, and not always an upbeat one. (This is still the blues, after all.) Still, even in its heaviest moments, Catawampus is a recording that makes you want to move. It leans forward. It has momentum. It travels in the present tense. It also rides well in your vehicle, turned up loud.
That’s the other side of the story. On to the songs:
The opening track features Big Creek Slim singing John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues,” but this is not the train-hoppin’ man-and-guitar homage that Big Creek recorded on his 2015 Straight Shooter album, Hope For My Soul. This version carries a more demanding weight, delivered primarily by a ghostly chain gang-inspired chant that recalls a time past.
“Rollin’ & Tumblin’” has been a staple for slide guitarists since it was recorded in 1929 by Hambone Willie Newbern. Here, the track, featuring Sahra da Silva, is fully reimagined with a slinky bassline, jazzy drum work and a jangly rhythm guitar that gives way to an Albert King-inspired solo. It ends too soon. Da Silva also appears on the simmering “Change My Ways,” in which the singer laments a Devil-at-the-crossroads encounter.
James Harman performs on two tracks. “You Got to Choose” frames Harman within a funky ‘70s-inspired bass line and rhythm guitar, and features lean, sinewy harp lines, while “Grandma Lurleen’s Recipe” showcases James in a spoken piece that offers exactly what the title suggests (right down to the size of the cast iron skillet and the oven temperature setting). Take notes!
Other tracks include “Kokomo Blues,” featuring Troels Jensen, which transforms the Fred McDowell classic into a barn dance worthy blues-meets-country stepper; the haunting “Autumn Shakedown,” featuring Richard Farrell; Mud Morganfield honoring the family tradition with “Mannish Boy,” which features intriguing rhythm variations and dynamic range; and “My Little Machine,” which gets a swinging treatment for vocalist Big Joe Louis.
Collectively, the music on Catawampus embraces the traditions of the blues while also inviting them into the 21st century. As sure as Muddy Waters, Little Walter and others plugged into amps and cranked them up in the clubs of post-WWII Chicago, so the blues will continue to evolve and change with the times. Something to think about... Or, just listen to the music and let it move you.
Catawampus - The Cornbread Project
Featuring (in order of appearance): Big Creek Slim, Sahra da Silva, James Harman, Big Joe Louis, Richard Farrell, Troels Jensen, Mud Morganfield
Track Listing :
1. Hobo Blues featuring Big Creek Slim
2. Rollin’ & Tumblin’ featuring Sahra Da Silva
3. You Got To Choose featuring James Harman
4. On My Way featuring Big Creek Slim
5. My Little Machine featuring Big Joe Louis
6. Autumn Shakedown featuring Richard Farrell
7. Kokomo Blues featuring Troels Jensen
8. Mannish Boy featuring Mud Morganfield
9. Change My Ways featuring Sahra da Silva
10. Grandma Lurleen’s Recipe featuring James Harman