On the surface, Cedric Burnside and Black Joe Lewis come from two different musical backgrounds, but listen to their music and it makes sense that they would tour together. Whereas Burnside is a bearer of the blues tradition, Black Joe Lewis takes forms of the blues and spins it in a funky rock and roll blender. At the end of the day, both artists know how to create one hell of a party, and that is exactly what they did when they brought their co-headlining tour to the Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oregon on Thursday, January 20th.
Alongside his peers the North Mississippi Allstars and Lightnin’ Malcolm – both of whom he has played with – Cedric Burnside is one of the few purveyors of Hill Country blues, a loose, driving regional variation of the blues that was created by his grandfather R.L. Burnside, among others. Accompanied by a drummer, Burnside would play a selection of timeless Hill Country tunes alongside songs off his solo albums. At the core of all these songs was that simple driving blues sound that is rhythmic to the point of hypnotizing a listener in the best kind of way. During this set, Burnside was focused on his electric guitars, which carried a tone reminiscent the of Malian desert rock that has its own similarities to Hill Country blues. On some songs, Burnside seemed to be playing guitar and bass simultaneously as he picked away. By the end of his hour-long set, Burnside was able to showcase the naturalness of Hill Country blues in the way that it seemed to flow out of him, making it clear that playing it is a function much like breathing.
With the crowd beaming from Burnside’s blues, Black Joe Lewis and his band the Honeybears took the stage and wasted no time ripping into a set of ferocious rock and roll. Lewis has always taken a no bullshit approach to his music, and that was on full display as he knocked out songs like “Black Snake,” the funky romp “Do Yourself In,” “I’m Broke,” “Wasted,” the James Brown-esque favorite “Sugarfoot” and more. Lewis would cut through his own vocal grit with bursts of guitar shredding while his band held down a relentlessly tight groove. The presence of two saxophone players – one of whom often swapped in a flute for a touch of Jethro Tull – brought the music into high gear with boogie woogie flourishes of 1950s rock and soul. All of this came together in righteous fashion, and the crowd reciprocated by dancing right up in front of the stage.
In these dark days where we can’t seem to shake the pandemic, we are lucky that there are still artists brave enough to hit the road and bring live music to the people. For those willing to venture out and support these artists, the reward is in the joy. In Portland on Thursday, both Cedric Burnside and Black Joe Lewis dished out plenty of joy in the form of blissful blues and fiery rock and roll.
All photos by Greg Homolka