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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

CD image Boo Boo Davis – Name of the Game
Boo Boo Davis – Name of the Game
Black & Tan Records, 2008

James “Boo Boo” Davis is a long-time resident of the East St. Louis area, native to Drew, Mississippi. He’s an old-school bluesman, having performed as a vocalist, harmonica player and drummer over the years, at times in partnership with Arthur Williams. Boo Boo was one of 13 children and moved to the St. Louis area as a young man. Now in his mid-60s, Davis is a long-time fixture on the St. Louis blues scene. In fact, he formed the Davis Brothers Band in 1972, which was ensconced as the weekend house band at Tabby’s Red Room in East St. Louis for almost 20 years.

Boo Boo’s music has been very popular in Europe during the 1990s to present. In fact, he’s been signed with the Black & Tan Records label out of The Netherland for several years, and has now had five releases on the label – which includes Name of the Game, his latest CD.

Name of the Game sees Boo Boo and his two-piece Dutch band performing in a stripped down mode, consisting of just drums, guitar, and Davis’ harp. There’s some of the down-home juke-joint-styled music Boo Boo is known for, but there’s also some songs done up in a more experimental, Fat Possum-like rock/blues hybrid. Does it work? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. See the song notes below for my thoughts about the tunes on Name of the Game.

1. Dirty Dog: -- it sounds like the band is attempting to go after the sound of RL Burnside’s “Come On In” release (alt-rock/blues hybrid), only without the synths and loops used on Burnside’s CD. The song is very much in a Fat Possum –
Mississippi Hill Country vibe, but Boo’s voice doesn’t have the distinctiveness and depth of character to quite pull it off. A fun grungy track, but not all that memorable.

2. I’m Comin’ Home: -- a slow blues, also in the Fat Possum vibe. Boo’s vocals are heavily processed, and his harp work is sparse and workman-like. The guitar sound is in an alt-rock style more so than blues.

3. Stay From the Casino: -- A mid-tempo tune. Boo Boo is singing about the evils of the casino, and how it can take all your money if you’re not careful. The guitar on the song really makes it much more a rock song than a blues song. Again, Boo Boo’s vocals are processed here. This tune has more in common with the alt-rock/blues of Jon Spencer than with Boo Boo’s past blues efforts, which is ok if that’s your bag. I’d rather hear Boo Boo in a more traditional blues vein, playing to his strengths.

4. Want Nobody Tell Me How to Live My Life: -- now that’s one long song title! This is a true blues tune, with Boo Boo’s singing and harp work unencumbered by studio processing. This is the type of loping low-down down-home blues Boo Boo excels at, and this tune works very well. It builds in intensity throughout its length. I can honestly say that I was sorry when it ended. This one’s a winner!

5. Tryin’ to Get Ahead: -- Here’s another great track from Boo Boo and the band. There’s just a hint of vocal processing, but the instrumental sound is all blues, and Boo Boo actually blows a pretty tough, raggedy harp. This one smells like juke, rolls like juke, and makes you want to be in a juke. Another winner!

6. Name of the Game: -- The boys are still in the juke joint with this track. It’s a cool, uptempo shuffle. If you like juke joint-styled shuffles in various tempos, then the last 3 tracks should please you. The guitar is solidly in a blues vein, the drummer is driving it all along, and Boo Boo’s world-weary voice just adds to the mood. Needless to say, I like this song, also.

7. Who Stole the Booty: -- We’re back into the Fat Possum thing here. Just to let you all know, I like much of the Fat Possum catalog – a lot! It’s just that the sound doesn’t fit everybody. On this song, Boo Boo is again going after the RL Burnside/Jr. Kimbrough sound. It’s got a cool groove, but Boo Boo’s vocals are just too thin to pull this off convincingly.

8. Why You Wanna Do It: -- Interesting…This one’s in the mode of an old 60’s soul ballad. It’s really very cool. Take a soul tune and mix it up with a juke joint blues and this could be the result. The guitar work here is very nice, both with the wah-wah rhythm work and the single-note leads. I’ve never been a blues purist (listen with an open mind!), and I like what the boys did here.

9. Lonely All By Myself: -- Ah, we’re back in the juke again with a mid-tempo blues. All right! The melody bears more than a little resemblance to that used in “Rock Me Baby” (rock me all night long…), but the guys bring it into the juke and rough it up a little bit. This is the kind of stuff I really enjoy: ragged, grungy, heartfelt, raw - from the gut/groin.

10. It’a Shame: -- This is a “version” of the old Jimmy Reed song (Shame, Shame, Shame), mixed together with a Hubert Sumlin lick from his Howlin’ Wolf days. Boo Boo’s harp work is pretty rudimentary, but the song has this cool vibe and rhythm that’s tough to resist. Once again, I like it! Hat’s off to the drummer on this track. Salute!

11. I’m So Tired: -- an autobiographical song by Boo Boo, with a long, talking intro. He worked much too hard back in the day, and he’s going to tell you about in the song. This one’s in the one-chord vamp style of the Hill Country, and this time it works very well. Boo Boo seemed to be emotionally involved in the lyric, and it showed in his performance in this song. This is another solid track from Boo Boo and the boys.

12. Hot Foot: -- We’re back in the rocky Fat Possum hybrid thing again. This time it’s a takeoff on a James Brown groove. You don’t believe it? Just give it a listen. The track is fun, but in the end it’s not that memorable. Boo Boo’s thin vocals do him in again, especially against the heavy wah-wah guitar heard throughout the track.

13. St. Louis Woman: -- a hard, tough electric shuffle to end the set. The vocals are heavily processed, and Boo Boo’s harp work is again workman-like at best. The groove is solid, and the guitar and drum work is very nice. Once again we have a track that’s fun and entertaining, but without much staying power.

The Verdict:
This cd could almost be broken down into two separate styles. One is the Fat Possum rock/blues hybrid that uses heavily processed vocals and rock-oriented guitar (does anyone remember Muddy Waters’ “Electric Mud”?) The other style is a more traditional juke joint/Hill Country style, where the vocal processing is non-existent or kept to a minimum and the guitar work is solidly blues oriented.

Overall, the juke joint style tracks worked better for Boo Boo. He seems more comfortable there, and the tracks in that style are very good. However, the rock/blues tracks really never take off, and just don’t stick with the listener. Frankly, they sound a little forced, as Boo Boo doesn’t have the vocal abilities of an RL Burnside or Jr. Kimbrough (not many people do…) to grab and hold the listener with. As just over half the songs of this CD are more in the juke joint style, I can safely give this CD a 3.5 on the STLBluesometer.

Lee Howland, aka "East Side Slim"
The STLBluesometer

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