Started by young Mississippi blues critic Matthew Johnson, Fat Possum Records was set up as an authentic retort to the slick, white-boy bullshit that has come to dominate blues. Exploring the wooded hills of northern Mississippi reaped long-shaded genius: In the small town of Hudsonville, Fat Possum discovered guitarist David "Junior" Kimbrough, who once upon a time taught a young kid named Charlie Feathers how to pluck on the guitar. Fat Possum released the 62-year-old Kimbrough's debut album, All Night Long
, which was named the best blues album of the decade by Rolling Stone
in 1992, enticing groups like Sonic Youth, U2, and the Rolling Stones to make pilgrimages to Mississippi to hear Kimbrough, who was too ill at the time to tour. The growing notoriety of All Night Long
supplied Fat Possum with enough juice to release two more albums by Kimbrough before he succumbed to heart failure in 1998; it also helped foster a distribution deal with hard-edged Epitaph Records. The relationship between Epitaph and Fat Possum isn't as anomalous as one might think. Certainly, the artists on Fat Possum's roster represent the raw spirit of DIY -- playing on ramshackle instruments in ramshackle buildings for little or no pay -- but in a way that modern-day punk does not. Since those early days, Fat Possum has excavated a number of other dusty musical jewels from the Mississippi hills, among them the three artists traveling on this Fat
tour. T-Model Ford
is a lascivious, switchblade-toting bluesman who stopped keeping track of his age at 77 and lost count of his kids after siring 26. His music, a shambling electric-guitar boogie as heard on the new She Ain't None of Your'n
, is strung together with the howling hints of the down-and-dirty life he's led, and, unlike so many contemporary "bluesmen," Ford has some juicy gristle on which to gnaw: He once did two years on a Tennessee chain-gang for killing a man; he's been left by the mothers of all his 26-plus children; he's lived on a logging camp, where, at 59, he first picked up a guitar; and his drummer "Spam" is forbidden to enter Ford's hometown, where a local woman in love with Spam sliced off his fingertips with a box cutter. Since his 1994 Fat Possum debut, Paul Jones
has dropped the "Wine" from his moniker, which led me to think the new, sparkly-eyed Jones -- as seen grinning on the cover of Pucker Up Buttercup
-- might try serving up some sort of shiny-sounding salvation, but let me testify: No one can put the grit in God like Jones and his trusty drumming sidekick "Pickle." That brings us to the utterly captivating Robert Belfour
, a 60-year-old construction worker and welder with a voice as deep as the river that runs through his home state. Belfour's album What's Wrong With You
is a departure for Fat Possum, which tends to focus on the sort of distorted blues that makes juke-joint walls sweat. Using only an acoustic guitar and a little percussion, Belfour gives us a glimpse of what Charlie Patton or Bukka White might have sounded like if they were recorded with current technology instead of that of the 1930s. Infinitely emotive, surprisingly complex, Belfour's voice is able to express the full range of human emotion within a single repeated refrain, which is sure to slake your despair, whatever it may be. Robert Belfour opens for T-Model Ford and Paul Jones on Friday, June 2, at Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 621-4455.
With Keely Smith rolling through town earlier in the week (June 1 at Bimbo's), you might want to hang up your dance shoes and relax a little. No worries. There's no room to dance at the Radio Valencia anyway, and this being its last Friday night open, and the Blue Room Boys being the best "house" band this town could ever hope to offer, you have no excuses. The Blue Room Boys' recently released Driving You Crazy captures the sublime musicianship of Danny Armstrong, Ralph Carney, Noel Jewkes, Brian Kane, Bill Langlois, Michael McIntosh, and Kevin Mummey, whose ability to play jazz and jump-blues standards with one arm tied behind their backs makes you wonder what they're doing spending time in a group whose stock repertoire includes "My Blue Heaven," "Sugar in My Bowl," and "You're Drivin' Me Crazy." I can tell you why: Tricia Thomas. If ever the voices of Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey were to coalesce in the breast of a young woman in the year 2000, they've done so in her. The Blue Room Boys perform on Friday, June 2, at Radio Valencia for the last time before the restaurant/bar closes for good at 9 p.m. Admission is free; call 826-1199.
Let me throw some names at you: Stiff Little Fingers, Clash, Cock Sparrer, Sham 69. If I've piqued your interest, let me throw in some bagpipes. You must know I'm talking about Dropkick Murphys, the greatest oi band around today. Does it please me that they're from the U.S., Boston to be exact, and they've finally released The Singles Collection 1996-1997 stateside? To no end. Put on your boots, pull up your braces, shout along to "Fightstarter Karaoke," and remember if you're not battered and bruised by the end, you're not doing it right. Dropkick Murphys perform as part of the Punk O Rama tour on Saturday, June 3, at Maritime Hall with the Bouncing Souls, Dwarves, and Distillers opening at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12.50; call 974-6644.