The Cornbread Project – Catawampus
Straight Shooter – 2019
10 tracks; 33 minutes
Here is a very different listening experience! Conceived by Laust ‘Krudtmejer’ Nielsen and Peter Nande of Straight Shooter Records, the idea was to blend traditional blues themes with contemporary music production techniques like loops, samples and beats; Catawampus means something out of alignment, askew or off-kilter. In some cases Nande pulled vocal performances from unissued recordings he had to hand, in other cases the vocals were freshly recorded. One issue with the disc is that no musicians are credited other than the singers and there are no writing credits (though some of the songs are very well known, of course). The artwork shows some traditional blues images – a blood moon, the grim reaper, gravestones, a bottle of bourbon, a tornado and musicians clutching guitars – but quite why a British steam locomotive is passing through this landscape is hard to fathom!
There is lots of harmonica on Sonny Boy Williamson 1’s “My Little Machine” with Britain’s Big Joe Louis impressing on vocals on one of the songs that is less affected by the ‘samples and beats’ approach. Richard Farrell fares less well as the music and extracts from weather broadcasts behind him dominate on “Autumn Shakedown” while Troels Jensen’s gruff vocals on Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues” are set against a country hoedown rhythm which gets the toes tapping. Mud Morganfield reprises his father’s “Mannish Boy” but the sluggish rhythm simply does not fit with his powerful vocals, the harmonica sounding as if it is from a different song – disappointing, as Mud is a wonderful interpreter of Muddy’s music.
Three artists get two songs each. Big Creek Slim performs John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues” over some weird train noises and a disembodied humming choir, no doubt intended to represent an other-worldly experience but the overall effect is to rather lose Slim’s vocals in the surrounding noise. Slim also features on the traditional gospel song “On My Way” which opens with some strange sound effects but improves as Slim’s vocals take over. Danish singer Sahra da Silva sounds convincing on “Change My Ways”, a gospel-influenced tune on the traditional ‘meeting the Devil at the crossroads’ theme, her vocals rising well above the minimal accompaniment; Sahra’s other song is “Rollin’ & Tumblin’”, a real success with lyrical bass lines and a lively feel to the music, including a nice guitar feature. James Harman guested on a 2009 recording of “You Got To Choose” by Peter Nande and Tim Lothar and here features on both harp and vocals over a loping rhythm with more funky bass work giving the tune a 70’s feel. James closes the album with a spoken (and very detailed) description of his “Grandma Lurleen’s Recipe” for cornbread; it sounds absolutely delicious too!
Does the musical concept work? In parts, yes, but the overall effect did not add much to some familiar material. Not an album that this reviewer will return to in a hurry but others may hear it differently, of course – that is the beauty of music!