(219 Records, 2007)
Not for the faint of heart is Cashman, purveyor of full-frontal downhome blues, as subtle as a tornado funnel or an artillery blast. On Texassippi Stomp, the music arrives courtesy of two guys, Ray Cashman (electric and acoustic guitars, dobro, percussion) and Grant A. Brown (harmonica), with the periodic assistance of the ubiquitous but unfailingly worthy Jimbo Mathus (bass, guitar, snare drum), who also produces.
Though based in Austin, Cashman is not to be confused with those Austin singer-songwriters whose definition of roots is other singer-songwriters. This is rude, raucous Mississippi juke-joint music, much less delta than hill country -- the sort of raw approach whose then-surviving (and some since-deceased) native practitioners (including T Model Ford, R.L. Burnside, Paul "Wine" Jones and Robert Belfour) the Oxford, Mississippi, label Fat Possum famously recorded and promoted. Among our many debts to Fat Possum (in whose Money Spot studio Cashman cut this album), we may thank it -- snark alert -- for encouraging talented young white guitarists to stop trying to sound like Eric Clapton trying to sound like Albert King. Or, to the more knowledgeable, giving them some idea of a living, as opposed to an archival, country blues.
Cashman's uncompromising approach renders trivial, even absurd, conventional notions of "authenticity." Who Cashman and Brown are in prosaic fact -- you could call them, technically, folk musicians in the revival sense -- is detail, and, worse, misleading detail, because in the post-traditional early 21st century anybody who decides to carry a tradition has become a tradition carrier. If the music is so felt and true that it rises above rote impersonation, that's as close to a working definition of "authentic" as you're going to get. Cashman is as authentic as all hell.
The tight-lipped sleeve notes cannot be troubled to provide such basic information as who wrote the 11 songs. While I suspect Ray Cashman is the author, they feel about as composed as field hollers. The voice -- more deep-throated rasp than singing instrument -- seems to be snatching words out of the air, some found floating by, others invented and disposed of on the spot. "Music" in the conventional sense is second, in effect a framework in which to set complaints, irritations, threats and laments. The electrified cuts, which is to say most of the cuts, rush at the listener in a mile-high tsunami of sound, sweeping away all in its path. There is, you might say, no room for argument.
Rather amazingly, then, the penultimate cut, the acoustic "Trouble's on the Way," is tender and melodic (albeit in no sense sentimental), in the fashion of the pre-blues African-American songsters who performed a wider range of folk, popular and religious music than interested the commercial music industry when it started recording downhome performers in the 1920s, convinced -- falsely -- that rural and small-town black Americans wanted to hear something called "blues" to the exclusion of all else. Songsters such as Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb and John Jackson would have to wait to be "rediscovered" (by white folklorists and folk fans) nearly four decades later. "Trouble's," which could easily pass as a turn-of-the-last-century piece, is an unexpectedly beautiful song, with a melancholy refrain that at once saddens and comforts.
I suppose 2007 may produce a handful of blues albums as good as this one -- I hope so, because if that's the case this will be a memorable year indeed -- but when the roll is called and 2007 marches off into lost time, Cashman can boast that it delivered it, in Mississippi Fred McDowell's phrase, straight 'n' natural. Cashman will surely have the awards to prove it. In the meantime, if your blues diet has left you feeling anemic of late, here is every one of your basic nutritional requirements.
26 May 2007