The Best Of
Fat Possom / Capricorn
Arkansas blues artist CeDell Davis is one of the more unique practitioners of slide guitar blues. Originally right-handed, childhood polio left him partially paralyzed. He now plays left-handed, fretting with a left-handed butter knife and developing his unique tunings and the highly individual bottleneck style he employed while working with Robert Nighthawk and others in the delta area.
Robert Palmer, then pop music critic for the New York Times, wrote an enthusiastic article of surviving juke joint blues in the delta area which focused on Davis. Later, Palmer helped arrange for him to appear at the old Tramps in New York. I had the pleasure of seeing him there and was enthralled by his highly unique, bittersweet blues. Field recordings of solo work appeared on anthologies by L&R and Rooster Blues, but only gave a sense of his music. Recently Fat Possum issued a full album, Feel Like Doin’ Something Wrong, which was mostly solo with three band tracks. I understand that in the decade between when I first saw him and the Fat Possum album, he had suffered some health setbacks. This was particularly apparent on the solo recordings which sounded tired, while the band recordings were more vigorous.
CeDell is back with his second Fat Possum album, one of the first to be issued under the label’s licensing arrangement with Capricorn Records. It is oddly titled The Best of CeDell Davis, almost suggesting it is a compilation, but it is not. He is backed by Capt. Bruce Hampton & the Aquarium Rescue Unit (whom I am totally unfamiliar with), who do a workmanlike job and elevate the music while giving it more focus. Davis is a unique blues artist with a very somber singing style and an acidic bottleneck approach, to which Hampton occasionally adds a busier, blues-rock tone nicely complementing CeDell’s playing. The songs are traditionally based, but treated to Davis’ own particular spin. His own Fattenin’ Frogs For Snakes is a different tune from the Sonny Boy Williamson classic, and CeDell’s Boogie is a chance for he and Hampton to play some slide.
Davis’ music is never flashy, and his vocals and slide possess a barely restrained, burning edge. While playing time may be short at about 40 minutes, this is a much more satisfactory introduction to Davis’ music than his earlier Fat Possum release.
This review originally appeared in the May 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 201). I likely received a review copy from the publication or the record company.While I didn't focus on the specific personnel, it is apparently Derek Trucks adding the slide on CeDell's Boogie. Here is CeDell playing a house party.