The title of Bobby Rush's new album, Sitting on Top of the Blues (Deep Rush/Thirty Tigers), might conjure up deep echoes of Howlin' Wolf singing the masterfully weary classic, "Sittin' On Top of the World," itself a cover of the original by Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon of the Mississippi Sheiks. But really, the title is merely a feint to the left while Rush prepares to wallop us with a lively right hook.
What this disc serves up instead is a consistently funky, soulful, boogie record, more reminiscent of classic Rufus Thomas than the Wolf. And that's just fine. There's an openness to the distorted tones of the modern guitar, yes, but nothing to the extent of iconic North Mississippi hill country blues like R.L. Burnside. Instead, the record has the punch and panache of timeless Stax tracks, full of clean lines punctuated by the occasional horn stabs. Mostly, though, it's all guitar, drums, bass, organ or piano, and harp.
It kicks off with the heavy mid-tempo funk of "Hey, Hey Bobby Rush," which is very Staxy indeed. "I'm a blues man!" he sings, with a more lively take on that role than Albert King's classic "I'll Play the Blues For You." Here, the arrangement snaps with quick turnarounds and sudden guitar breaks that catch you off guard.
Rush has a way with a vocal hook, as in the opener's titular chant, which sounds almost like "Hey, Hey Pocky-Way," or with the infectious "Get outta here, which ya ____!" in the song of that name. In true blues fashion, the blank is left open to the listener's judgment, or lack thereof.
There are some slower moments, of course, as with the stripped down acoustic number, "Recipe for Love," or the the sultry soul of "Slow Motion." "I wanna make love to your sexy body," he sings, "but first I wanna make love to your mind." And if his live show features the same slow-phased guitar and steady groove of the record, he'll have them fainting in their seats.
And true Bobby Rush fans, or even the idle dabblers among us, can find out for themselves at tonight's record release show, Friday, August 16th at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. It's an all-too-rare show in this remarkable space, presided over by a master of the living craft, living right here on our doorstep.