The highly esteemed, redoubtable and seemingly inexhaustible master Catfish just carries on regardless, touring the world each year like clockwork and packing 'em in throughout the UK with his tireless championing of acoustic "weird and deep country-blues and roots music", moving from foot-stompin' goodtime to serious pindrop sanctified at the drop of his trademark hat and rejoicing in all points in between on the massive compass of the blues. Catfish is the real deal - and truly unique, even among the "blues" fraternity; his live performances are hypnotic experiences, unrivalled for the intense spell they cast on the most hardened of audiences and long-term converts alike, for folks invariably come away from a Catfish gig feelin' real good.
So at the risk of underselling the guy's 15th CD, Honey Hole, I'll kick off by telling you it's another typically brilliant helping of prime Catfish, freshly recorded just last year, for the most part in proudly solo "recorded live" mode, effectively rewriting the rules of fingerstyle guitar-picking, but with just a couple of entertaining concessions to studio process by way of some playful double-tracking. Honey Hole is a compelling, upfront and scintillatingly varied collection that shows considerable enterprise in its assemblage, its components having been carefully selected from songs Catfish has loved for years and has evidently thought long and hard about how best to present them now. He surrounds and intersperses a hefty quotient of less well-known numbers from the wider blues repertoire (Blind Boy Fuller, Memphis Minnie, Leadbelly, Kid Bailey, Bo Carter, Sister Rosetta Tharpe) with one of his own idiomatic compositions and a clutch of supremely intelligent, perceptive arrangements of some quite unusual repertoire. There's a creative juxtaposition of the Harlem Hamfats' Weed Smoker's Dream with Lil Green's Why Don't You Do Right? (popularised by Peggy Lee, you'll remember); an uproarious take on Tomi Tomi (sung in the original Hawaiian, and accompanied bottleneck-style on a National Baritone Tricone); and, toward the end of the disc, a penetrating version of Julia Lee's haunting, pleading love song Lotus Blossom (complete with mellifluous, darkly sonorous 12-string backing). Catfish's Fred McDowell-inspired arrangement of Worried Life Blues (here retitled Someday Baby) also deserves special mention.
And throughout, studio producer Luke Tweedy has exactly and faithfully conveyed the essence of Catfish, every last deep nuance of that trademark "quirky yet heartfelt" expression that flows so uncannily naturally 'twixt voice and any one of his seven (count 'em!) different guitars. Yeah, with Honey Hole, Catfish has produced another landmark blues-based album that's so much more than the blues. Even at a wonderfully generous 55 minutes, I just can't get enough…
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