Chris Cotton

I Watched The Devil Die

Yellow Dog Records YDR 1146

Chris Cotton, vocals and guitar; Hamilton Rott, fiddle; Lee Williams, drums; Barry Bays, bass; and Adam Woodard, piano. Guests: Jimbo Mathus, tenor banjo, drums, bass and slide guitar; Big Jack Johnson, slide guitar; Olga, washboard, percussion and fiddle; and Clarksdale Hummingbirds, backing vocals

California-bred Chris Cotton is definitely bursting with the spirit of the great Piedmont blues artists who preceded him. Cotton was the frontman for the band The Blue Eyed Devils that achieved a modicum of success before disbanding. On this CD Cotton is flying solo and he has chosen impressive company. It is not your standard 12-bar blues, but has the elements of blues nonetheless. There are many styles of blues, all reflecting a regional lifestyle, and Piedmont blues encompasses the elements of country, ragtime and folk blues songster. The CD was recorded in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the Delta Recording Service run by Jimbo Mathus when he is not on the road with Buddy Guy. The flavor of the region is reflected on this presentation which has a relaxed but authentic essence.

The opening cut "Morgan City, Mississippi" is a tale written by Cotton about hitching a ride with the sheriff and it swings with a ragtime beat and a gravelly vocal interpretation. "Come On" is a country-flavored composition on which Cotton demonstrates creative guitar fingerpicking to compliment his worldly worn vocal style. The title cut, "I Watched The Devil Die" has a juke joint flavor that is engaging for its raw beauty. The cover of Blind Willie McTell's tune, "Dying Crapshooter's Blues," features Cotton's aching vocals and makes one wonder how much more haunting can it get! The Mississippi Shieks tune, "That's It," features Mathus on tenor banjo and Hamilton Rott on fiddle on this upbeat instrumental which is delightful and at the end there is light laughter in the background (like they knew they nailed it!). The inventive interpretation of "I'm So Glad," a Skip James tune features Cottonís mournful vocals. "Black Night" is Cotton's gleeful composition that really rocks for a whole nine minutes and twenty-two seconds complemented by the incredible slide guitar of Big Jack Johnson and is a real winner. Cotton's major musical inspiration is Big Bill Broonzy and he pays tribute on the tune "Blues for Big Bill" with robust vocals and a masterful fiddle accompaniment. "Goin' Back Home" is a somber but hopeful ending with the Clarksdale Hummingbirds adding a nice background touch.

What can I say, other than I loved this CD and, out of twelve cuts, there is not a miss in the bunch. On a scale of ten, I would definitely give it a ten and if I didn't own it, I would go right out and get it. It is one of the most refreshingly creative offerings of the year!

by Dorothy L. Hill