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From Delta to Chicago, and Back

14 March 2007

Jimmy Burns was born in Dublin, Mississippi. Although he has lived in Chicago almost all his life, sounds from the Delta can still be heard in his music. Delmark Records has released the album and dvd “Live at B.L.U.E.S.”.   

Jimmy Burns is one of those artists, who personify the journey of the urbanizing blues from the Delta to Chicago. Burns was born in Dublin, Mississippi but his family drifted, like many others, to the Windy City with the hope for the better. Burns, 64, has lived in Chicago already for half a century.      

Mr Burns, who aptly calls his music “Chicago-based Delta blues”, is a hard-line family man as well. After the club success of the early years of his career, Burns for long concentrated in family life. It was not until 1996 that his first album “Leaving Here Walking” came out. And that was three years after the man had turned 50.
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Ever since his first album, Burns’s record label has been Delmark Records. The record company has been in the music business since the beginning of 1950’s and worked with famous artists like Junior Wells, Magic Sam, Otis Rush and Jimmy’s big brother Eddie Burns. Delmark recently published a Burns novelty "Live at B.L.U.E.S." on cd and dvd. The concert was recorded last August during an annual festival by this classic Chicago-based club.

"Country Boy in the City" is the concert’s defining tune. All through the lyrics, it radiates the homesickness of a country boy, who has moved to a city: 

     "Tried to make new friends
     For the ones I left behind
     When I think about back home
     Doesn't ease my worried mind."

Jimmy's change of instruments makes an essential finesse to the song. The man's guitar of choice - an electric-blue Schechter, the sound of which is maybe too effect-free - changes to a light-gauged, semi-hollow Epiphone here. And eventually the slide, too, is found, literally, from the back pocket.

The material is not solely in minor. For example, "Miss Annie Lou" swings vividly in major. “When writing this song, I felt that it was not bluesy enough. But I finally decided to let it take its shape freely, and it worked out”, Jimmy describes on the commentary track of the dvd.

If the blues were all about smash hits, the closing track "Stop the Train" would be Jimmy Burns Band’s hit song. Also the debut album’s title song "Leaving Here Walking" and one of the few cover songs, Elmore James’s "Wild About You, Baby", roll smoothly.

The obligatory special guest,
Jesse Fortune, is also a Chicago-based, Delta-born blues man. The Mississippian, on his way to 80 years of age, hits the stage to sing one song. The age shows on this guy, but he sings "Three O'Clock Blues" with so much emotion you can feel it in your appendix.

Burns plays the guitar relaxed and with no rush, somewhat reminiscent of the
Albert King style. His singing is not just about growling; he is not afraid of shaking up his upper register, either. The other guitarist, Tony Palmer, also gets space for solos. As a guitar player, he is more technical and deft than Burns, and succeeds in keeping up his intensiveness. Considering their potential, bass player Greg McDaniel (offspring of an established family of musicians and a cousin of Bo Diddley, by the way) and drummer James Carter are too readily satisfied with their supporting roles.

"Live at B.L.U.E.S." does not surprise as a movie. It is shot - although appropriate for a small stage - in the ancient 4:3 –format. The filmic expression is flat, complete with really old-fashioned dissolve cuts and split-screens. The club is quite small, but it would have been nice to see more overall picture from the place. During the concert, the barbeque was cooking at the backyard of the club. It is quite fun to follow the rise of the atmosphere helped by the munching on the corn on the cob! 

As an extra, there is an additional audio track on the dvd. On it, while listening to music, one can hear Jimmy’s comments on the songs and on the people in the audience. Listening to the music and the commentary track together, enjoyment increases and the combination gives also some documentary character to the dvd. The dvd contains 14 songs and the cd has two less.

Jimmy Burns’s "Live at B.L.U.E.S." is good-humoured and authentic blues, all through the performers and the environment. The package is easygoing - without being too light.

Jimmy Burns: Live at B.L.U.E.S., 2007, Delmark Records

Jimmy Burns (guitar, vocals, harmonica), Tony Palmer (guitar), Greg McDaniel (bass), James Carter (drums)

Special guest: Jesse Fortune (vocals, "Three O'Clock Blues")

Producers: Robert G. Koester and Steve Wagner

Dvd directed by Tom Koester

Jimmy Burns, Delmark Records, B.L.U.E.S.