Underneath Bobby Rush’s good-timing, groove-slinging persona is a canny musician, someone who traverses musical styles with such a broad, contagious smile that he makes it all look deceptively easy.
Down in Louisiana, featuring nine originals over its 11-song length, makes it clear all over again just how much true talent, and very real emotion, lies beneath Rush’s outsized persona — honed after decades along the Deep South’s chitlin circuit.
In keeping with the album’s title, Rush begins by a series of expected Bayou State textures and themes: The title track rumbles with an accordion-laced sense of fun — right down to his note-perfect pronunciation of “looz-ee-ana.” But check out “I Ain’t The One,” with its tough, barking vocal and classic swamp-pop vibe. Later, the anthematic “Tight Money” traces a family’s departure from Louisiana toward the promise of a job elsewhere. You might have expected a trip to the bottom of a brown bottle with a track called “Raining in My Heart,” but instead Rush sings amid a rough-hewn, Crescent City cadence — made complete by producer Paul Brown’s rollicking Professor Longhair-ish piano solo.
Interspersed throughout Down in Louisiana (due February 19, 2013 via Thirty Tigers/Deep Rush Productions) are a series of new-classic additions to the Rush legacy: He tells off a lover with a wandering eye on the thunderously groovy “You Just Like A Dresser,” references the classic “It Hurts Me Too” on his harp-driven deep-blues lament “Don’t You Cry,” then sizzles through the lean Chuck Berry-inspired “Boogie in the Dark.”
“Rock This House” and “Bowlegged Woman” feature these coiled, greasy riffs that would make James Brown proud, while “What Is The Blues” finds Rush downshifting into a frank rumination on hard times and lost love. He closes things out on Down in Louisiana with a gospel-infused rumination called “Swing Low” — one more example of Bobby Rush’s easy, underrated ability to blend blend genres, textures and moods.
Of course, he does it with so much affable style, you might never notice, in particular during one of Rush’s raucous live performances. This album gives you that chance.