Robert Connely Farr & The Rebeltone Boys – Dirty South Blues
Now living in Vancouver, Canada, Robert Connely Farr was born in Alabama and raised in the rural Mississippi town of Bolton, from whence came Charley Patton and the Mississippi Sheiks. It is hard to imagine that he didn’t get exposure to the blues in his younger days. But the impetus for his latest project came when Farr fell under the spell of Bentonia bluesman Jimmy “Duck” Holmes during a visit to the Blue Front Cafe, which Holmes operates as the oldest surviving juke joint in Mississippi.
The Bentonia style of blues was captured in the music of masters like Skip James and Jack Owens. Holmes learned it from Henry Stuckey, who also gave instructions to James at the start of his career. The music is based on minor chords and droning tones, placing listeners in a haunting musical realm that isn’t for the faint of heart. Throughout this disc, Farr repeatedly illustrates his grasp of these aspects of the style, illuminating his vision of a dark, foreboding world.
But Farr takes the music well-beyond it’s acoustic origins, utilizing the Rebeltone Boys to flesh out the sound. The opening track, “Ode To The Lonesome,” features a delicate dialogue between Farr’s acoustic guitar and an electric guitar handled by Evan Uschenko. Farr’s weathered voice calls from out of the swampy mist, prodded by Kyle Harmon’s insistent drum beats, while the lush organ chords from Michael Ayotte flesh out the sound. It is one of several cuts that bring to mind the Drive-By Truckers, celebrated purveyors of southern rock. Another one is a cover of James’ classic, “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues”. Farr delivers a stirring vocal turn, again sustained by radiating organ tones. With a hint of country, it is a muscular track that journeys far from the original.
A better representation of the style is manifested on “Blue Front Cafe,” featuring cutting guitar riffs and a booming bass line from Tyson Maiko. “Lady Heroin” paints a unsettling portrait of the effects of the drug on a community. The darkness is also pervasive on “Cypress Tree Blues,” as Farr cries out his pain and emotional agony over a woman who did him wrong. Once again the Rebeltones provide a dense, sprawling soundscape for the singer to work with, sparked by Uschenko’s sharp licks. The title track has a booming vocal from the leader, his voice rising above the primordial guitar wails as he slips in a few lines of lyrics from “Dixie” for good measure. Mississippi’s state flower is held in high regard on “Magnolia,” a midst Rebel flags and other references to the “dirty south” mythology. The gloomy mood disappears on “Just Jive,” a rollicking track with Ayotte banging away on the piano. The band settles into another lazy, country-tinge cadence on “Yes Ma’am,” as Farr relates how a southern boy better heed his woman’s view on his behavior, or risk the wrath of a cast-iron frying pan.
The disc finishes with one final stark run-through of several common blues themes, “Hey Mr. Devil,” a droning piece with Farr’s robust supplications to Satan, seeking help locating his missing love interest, enveloped in another thickly layered arrangement. Building on what he learned from Duck Holmes, Robert Connely Farr amps up the Bentonia style, retaining the musics haunting qualities while adding lyrical commentary of a more modern nature. It may be a return to the roots, and certainly reaches down into the darker aspects of the human condition.