Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Robert Cage 'Can See What You're Doing"

Before, predictably enough, the well of North Mississippi adjacent blues geniuses dried up, Fat Possum was on quite a run. They had Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside, and the underrated combo, Elmo Williams & Hezekiah Early. For awhile there, every couple of months, another amazing, raw, amped up electric blues record would come out of nowhere and knock collective aficionados' proverbial dicks in the dirt. Then the bottom dropped, and Fat Possum started making tentative stabs at their still to be determined next bread and butter. The previous attempts at thematic consistency were disregarded forever. If you want cold hard evidence of how drastically fortune's eye can shift it's unforgiving focus, witness the tragic case of the artistic decline of Fat Possum; the backbone of their label went (in the mere space of a few years) from being Junior Kimbrough to being the Black Keys. The only thing that I can compare it to is being a wealthy man, the very portrait of health, with a wonderful family, to in the space of a few years, dying a disease ridden wreck in the gutter, with your family all long dead after unspeakable suffering.

In between the releases of their stable of heavy hitters, a number of perfectly serviceable - but basically second tier compared to the fine company they were keeping - bluesmen got releases, such as Paul 'Wine' Jones, and Asie Payton. Robert Cage got got lost in the shuffle. Although inconsistent, I like Robert Cage's 'Can See What You're Doing' record quite a bit. Cage was taught his craft by the late Scott Dunbar (whose fine album 'From The Shores Of Lake Mary' was reissued by Fat Possum), and he shares the otherwise individualistic style. The record starts with the electric 'Get Outta Here', and it's a something else - hypnotic blues riff, percussive singing, thump/crack drums, everything lands just right. The off center Scott Dunbar teaching make it sound different from the more usual blues arrangements, always welcome around Phil Honolulu's household. Cage's finest moment on the record is his version of 'Easy Rider'. Dunbar's version is no slouch, but Cage has him beat - Dunbar's version sounds more pedestrian when compared back to back, honest. Cage's guitar charges instead of floats, and the changes echo with wistful crispness, blending perfectly with his rough hewn voice. 'Instrumental #5' is as savage and fuzzed laden as a T-Model number. 'Bundle Up And Go' alternates between a near atonal introduction and sentimental passages, with different vocal lines and patterns over a shifting, ringing guitar line. The record is not all perfect, much of it sounds so similar that a little goes a long way - Cage is the type of guy that would be perhaps best serve with a few incredible cuts on a stellar compilation - but I rarely seem his name mentioned, which is a shame. Cage deserves more recognition.

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