What's Wrong With You (Fat Possum)
The scope and depth of North Mississippi blues are amply documented on the latest releases by the Oxford-based Fat Possum label, the highly touted indie responsible for breaking the likes of R.L. Burnside and the late Junior Kimbrough, among others. T-Model Ford's She Ain't None of Your'n and Robert Belfour's What's Wrong With You provide bookends to the eclectic and eccentric approach of the region's myriad blues artists -- the latter with an acoustic-based set that shows the influence of Mississippi Fred McDowell, the former with a raucous, electric sound defined by distorted guitars and furiously pounded drums.
Of the two, the seventysomething Ford is definitely the wildest and weirdest. She Ain't None of Your'n, T-Model's third album for Fat Possum, is a typically crazed collection of the blues primitivist's passions and peeves, from the aching version of the blues standard "Sail On" to the bizarre, down-home surrealism of Ford's own "Chicken Head Man" and the cantankerous rural soap opera "She Asked Me So I Told Her." Like the idiosyncratic blues of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Junior Kimbrough, Ford seems to care less about rhythm than the violence of his delivery and the pile-driving punch of the music. His guitar sprays a flurry of razor-sharp leads and hefty chunks of open-tuned raunch, while an array of drummers -- including his long-time running buddy Spam -- bangs out ramshackle beats that underpin the chaos of Ford's unique, often frightening, slop-bucket sound.
Sixty-year-old Robert Belfour is neither maverick nor madman. His percussive acoustic guitar style is a throwback to the unbridled attack of prewar blues master Charley Patton, yet his vocals have the warmth and intimacy of John Hurt or Lightnin' Hopkins. What's Wrong With You, Belfour's Fat Possum debut, has an ambiance of midnight melancholy and devastating heartache; "Done Got Old" is a haunting meditation on mortality, while "My Baby's Gone" and the title track are remarkable, propulsive essays on loss and loneliness. Although his songs pull together fragments of numerous traditional blues staples, Belfour makes them his own through the passion of his singing and the subtle majesty of his playing. In a year that's already cluttered with fine blues albums, What's Wrong With You may wind up being the greatest of the double zero.