Catfish Keith releases his new album Blues At Midnight on December 15th. If you’ve even a passing interest in the Blues, you’ve probably come across his playing. The new release is Catfish Keith’s nineteenth album, with thirteen songs, all originals written at various points over his long career. That’s probably all you need to know.
To my surprise, I know a few people, including a pretty good blues guitarist, who hadn’t come across Catfish Keith until I mentioned him, so let’s add a little more. In the 1920’s record companies sent a handful of people out from the cities with portable recording machines to discover music as it was played in non-urban places….and they discovered people playing the Blues that has inspired 100 years – and counting – of music. This is the music that inspired Catfish Keith to play.
The album opens with Xima Jo Road (“pronounced ‘Heema Ho’ ” I gather). From the first bars you hear the snap of the guitar strings, as sharp as the sound of letting one snap back if you stretch a new string, or, if you’ve never heard that, then the sound of the thick rubber band you fire at your mates in school. Go on to imagine that attention-grabbing power multiplied six times over, in tune and played up and down the fretboard. This is Catfish Keith territory.
From the first bars, the music insists on you listening; when he starts singing, the gravelly voice, that can deliver anything from a growl to a falsetto, becomes a further dare not to look away. This is the sound of a Blues player who’s heard the early recordings of the 20’s and 30’s and knows how to make a guitar sound like more than one; who’s learnt how to keep an audience’s attention – and could do so without any electric amplification – because he can pick loud and clean, and snap you to attention.
Far more than that, these are the songs of a man who was born in the sixties and who grew up learning from Baez and Cash as well as Leadbelly, who came across Son House, Blind Blake et al from the music of Dylan and Simon. And if that’s not enough to get you listening, there are also a couple of duets on the album ‘Move to Louisiana’, with the fiddler Randy Sabien, and ‘Oh Mr Catfish’ with the harmonica of the wonderfully named Peter Madcat Ruth.
Catfish Keith describes his pride in an album of his own songs written throughout his 40 years of making music. “My own songs are in the spirit of heroes from the first generation of blues and roots music. You will hopefully hear echoes of Jesse Mae Hemphill, Johnny Shines. Lonnie Johnson, Joseph Spence and so many others.”
It seems to me that this is an album of originals in two ways: in the sense of self-penned; but also in the sense that, although he is building on earlier traditions, Catfish Keith has a forty-year career and now has his own style and sound. Have a listen below.
Artist’s website: https://www.catfishkeith.com
‘Pony Run’ – live ten years ago: