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Review: Boo Boo Davis, Undercover Blues

Boo Boo Davis
Undercover Blues
[Black & Tan Records (2011)]

Boo Boo Davis is living proof that you can take the boy out of Mississippi but you can’t remove the Mississippi bluesman from the soul. Born in 1943 in the fertile heart of Mississippi delta country, Davis relocated to St. Louis in the early 60s and was active in the local music scene with his family band. It was during his first European tour in 2000 that he caught on and has been jumping across the pond semi-annually ever since. A few years ago, Boo Boo and crew toured Europe as a trio—sans bass—which, for such a radical maneuver, worked well to re-shape the band’s raw, primal sound.

Boo Boo’s seventh disc on the Netherlands Black and Tan imprint is also unusual given how multi-tracked records are recorded these days. Instead of overdubs and studio wizardry to make things slick and flawless, the group recorded live in a rural Switzerland studio, resulting in mostly raw one-takes. Whether it’s Jan Mittendorp’s electro-funky guitar riffs, John Gerritse’s occasional pounding on skins or Boo Boo’s seemingly stream of conscious vocals, a sense of spontaneity prevails here. Interestingly, Boo Boo’s harmonica playing emits short bursts of in-your-face intensity with shrill, piercing tones. Since all of this was recorded in a mere six hours, it’s not hard to notice occasional imperfections either, such as a muffled vocal, equipment feedback, and a microphone screech, but that’s part of the appeal.

While the Mississippi juke-joint ambience is unmistakable, “Have a Good Time” differs somewhat from the rest of this with Mittendorp’s cool jazzy boogie riffs setting the foundation for Boo Boo to searingly soar above. Throughout the proceedings, Boo Boo hollers “Thank you Dave,” an odd pet name for his spiritual savior who blessed him with talent in the first place. Cartoon character Yogi Bear often said “C’mon along with me, Boo Boo, I’m smarrrrrter than the average bear.” When it comes to Boo Boo, this bluesman is hardly the average bear.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

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