Catfish Keith – Blues at Midnight | Album Review

Catfish Keith – Blues at Midnight

Fish Tail Records FTRCD018

13 songs – 51 minutes

Guitarist/vocalist Catfish Keith is a perennial favorite in the Blues Blast Music Awards, having won top honors in the acoustic album category with Reefer Hound in 2019 and making it to the finals with Catfish Crawl last year. But he doesn’t rest on his laurels for long – as evidenced by this release, a collection of 13 tasty originals he’s penned in his 40-year-career.

The son of educators who was born Keith Kozacik in East Chicago, Ind., he grew up in the shadow of the Windy City listening to the city’s blues greats on radio before moving to Davenport, Iowa, during high school. He’s been based out of Iowa City for decades, but traveling the world ever since.

A childhood fingerpicking guitar prodigy who was especially fond of Son House, Keith got his nickname from a diving partner while fishing for sponges in the Virgin Islands, where he also received pointers from Bahamian Joseph Spence, the Bahamian-born guitarist who served as an influence to Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and others.

A four-time Blues Music Awards nominee, he’s toured constantly since releasing his first album, Catfish Blues, in 1984, which enabled him to pick up playing tips from several giants of acoustic blues, including David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Johnny Shines, Henry Townsend and Jesse Mae Hemphill – and, as Keith says, you’ll hear echoes of them in the grooves of this disc.

A hypnotic, rhythmic instrumentalist, he plays 13 different guitars here — ranging from a 1927 Gibson Nick Lucas Special to a 2018 National Reso-Phonic Exploding Palm Baritone Tricone and everything in between – all listed in the liner notes. He’s accompanied by Randy Sabien on violin and Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonica who make separate one-song guest appearances. His vocals are full of the same sweet tone as the six-strings he plays.

“Xima Road” opens the action with Catfish on steel guitar as he pays tribute to both a dusty back road in southern Mexico and the playing of the blues’ first true superstar, Charley Patton. “Pack My Little Suitcase” is a bittersweet remembrance of a romantic falling-out and plea for reunion, while “Jumpin’ Jack Rabbit” rings like a bell as it recounts the pain of separation.

Keith takes a trip to Hill Country with the title tune, “Blues at Midnight,” delivered in mesmerizing fashion on a 1930 National Duolian, before shifting west for “Pony Run.” The Tricone drives the action for “Weep Like a Willow (Hey, Pretty Mama),” a love song that questions why his lady’s so disagreeable but rejoices in her smile, followed by the sprightly “Your Head’s Too Big,” a dance tune inspired by Blind Blake.

Alternating slide and picking techniques, “Roll You in My Arms (Just Like a Wagon Wheel)” offers up more romance before Catfish offers up “Can’t Be Undone” — which states simply that past misdeeds are set forever in stone – before dipping back in to his Caribbean history for the pleasant, instrumental “West Indian Waltz.”

There’s a major aural shift in “Move to Louisiana” with Sabien joining the action for a fiddle-guitar duet. Keith describes it as his “graveyard-to-be.” The theme continues in “Way Out West” – in which the singer feels his time is near – before Ruth sits in for the bright-and-sunny romp, “Oh Mr. Catfish” – which offers up a slight tip of the fedora to John Lee Hooker — to conclude the action.

Don’t be surprised if Blues at Midnight figures in next season’s awards, too. Available direct from the artist (address above), and strongly recommended for fans of traditional acoustic blues.

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