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Real, powerful “Tales from East End Blvd.”
A DEADLINE IS A MARVELOUS THING. IT FORCES A MAN TO discipline himself, to organize his thoughts and notes and to tackle the work at hand with singlemindedness of purpose in a timely fashion. That is, unless you are THIS man.
For me, a deadline is a thing that hides away in a dark corner, minding its own business—until late in the night before it comes due. That’s when, with all the squealing enthusiasm of a toddler playing peek-a-boo, it boldly proclaims, “Here I am!” The ensuing chaos usually resolves itself in an alarm being set for an ungodly early hour and the coffee pot being set up so that all I have to do is turn on the burner.
I needn’t have bothered this time. The first thing I did after telling the alarm what I thought about its mother was to crank up Husky Burnette’s latest album, and after that the coffee became unnecessary.
A good deal has already been written about Husky and why not? He’s one of the most recognizable figures in Chattanooga music, a perennial player who always seem to have a gig somewhere. Big or small, grand ballroom or greasy spoon, if they’ll let him in the door, Burnette will play there.
When it comes to playing music, he is “the working man.” That being the case, we’re going to dispense with the minutiae. I don’t know his favorite food or color. (I’d guess beans and cornbread and, I don’t know, periwinkle?) What I do know is that 2013’s Tales from East End Blvd. is a phenomenal collection tunes. It’s no wonder, then, that it has rapidly become his most popular and successful offering to date.
Blues can be a tricky genre. As a musical style it is, in its basic form, easy to learn. Almost anyone can do it, which is why almost everyone does at one point or other, and that means that a fellow really has to have some serious chops to stand out. Burnette has the chops.
First and foremost is his voice. Part Dr. John, part Dr. Teeth, wrapped in a big ol’ Billy Gibbons burrito, Burnette’s voice is what blues is supposed to sound like. Calling it guttural or growling is watering it down too much; it is raw, real and powerful. It is a voice with character. On tunes like “See-Saw” and “That Liquor,” it evokes the image of a big man with a permanent scowl plowing 40 sun-baked acres in the Mississippi heat; and while his voice drives the operation, his guitar is the mule pulling the plow—mean, ornery, ready to kick you in the brains given half a chance.
And there you have it, a cheesy metaphor but an accurate description of the relationship between Burnette’s singing and playing; they complement each other so well it’s hard to think of either individually.
He can sing and he can play and for many artists that is enough, but Burnette is a triple threat, bringing considerable lyrical talent to the table as well. It was during his stint as lead guitarist for Roger Alan Wade that Burnette first discovered his own penchant for “the words.”
Arguably it was this tendency that served as the impetus for his own solo career, one not driven by any particular message or agenda so much as a fervent desire to keep alive an authenticity in music laid down by the likes of Merle Haggard, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.
So, Burnette is a blues-voiced storyteller with a mean guitar, a holy trinity that blazes from the 12 tracks of Tales from East End Blvd. There is depth here, and range. “Come on Carolina” takes a break from the juke joint and settles in barefoot on the front porch with a languid banjo and harmonies that channel the ghost of Jerry Garcia. Toss in a baying hound dog and the tune would fairly fart magnolias.