Leroy Jodie Pierson – Rusty Nail | Album Review

Leroy Jodie Pierson – Rusty Nail

Omnivore Recordings

20 songs – 78 minutes

Outside of his home base in St Louis, Leroy Jodie Pierson has managed to successfully fly under the radar of many blues fans for several decades now, which is an absolute travesty given his talents. A co-founder of the blues and reggae label, Nighthawk Records in the 1970s, he has acted as a producer, photographer, liner note writer, scholar and educator. He is also one of the finest country blues artists you will ever hear.

Rusty Nail was originally released in 1988 on Nighthawk and has now been reissued by Omnivore Recordings(which has been steadily reissuing the entire Nighthawk catalogue since 2017). Produced by Pierson and Cheryl Pawelski, the reissue has 10 previously unreleased bonus tracks, making this one of the more essential purchases of 2019.

The original album featured a three piece band comprising Pierson on vocals and guitar, Russ Horneyer on bass and backing vocals and Geoff Seitz on drums, violin and backing vocals. Heavily influenced by the likes of Henry Townsend, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Johnny Shines and Son House, the album was notable for a series raw yet deeply emotional performances (McDowell’s “Write Me A Few Of Your Lines” is worth the price of admission by itself).  Mixing three Pierson originals with covers of some well-known standards such as “Roll And Tumble”, “Little Boy Blue”, “Highway 61” and “Catfish Blues”, the band’s performances respect the original masters without ever becoming pastiches or slavish copies. Pierson is a fine singer, but an absolutely outstanding guitar player, finger-picking in a variety of country blues styles and displaying astonishing virtuosity with his slide playing. Alternating between his vintage Style-O National steel guitar or his modern National Resolectric, Pierson successfully manages to be both technically outstanding and emotionally compelling. Horneyer and Seitz provide dynamic support throughout, particularly on songs like “Catfish Blues” where their clever rhythmic variations add an extra layer of interest.

The 10 bonus tracks feature Pierson on vocals and guitar with Craig Spellmeyer or Benet Schaeffer on drums, Ken MacSwan on guitar, Dominic Schaeffer on saxophone, and Tracy Wynkoop and Horneyer on bass and follow a similar approach to the original album with a couple of Pierson originals sitting comfortably next to covers of the likes of John Estes and Robert Nighthawk. Some of the covers are more traditionally associated with electric covers but here are given the modernized-country-blues treatment. Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” is played with joyous abandon, while Sonny  Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me To Talking” is also played at quite a clip. Bob Shad’s “Junco Partner” oozes with the rhythms of New Orleans with an eyebrow-raising Tex-Mex middle eight. Pierson’s own “Far And Wide” is a raucous electric rock’n’roll workout while Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)” is barely recognizable, being re-envisaged as a modern grinder.  “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” really benefits from Pierson’s repetitive slide lick.

Rusty Nail has not dated over the last 30 years and the welcome addition of the bonus tracks makes this an even more attractive purchase. If you like slide guitar and country blues, you owe it to yourself to check out Rusty Nail. There is some magical stuff on here.

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