When it comes to today's genuine country blues artists, there are only a rare and talented few that would truly do the old masters of the art form proud. One such singer/songwriter instantly comes to mind, with his heavily bearded mug, his suspenders and newsboy cap, his booming and tremulous vocals, and his prodigious guitar playing. If you haven't guessed it yet, I am referring to the one and only Reverend Peyton, whose Indiana-based country blues trio Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band have become a highly recognizable presence in our modern roots music scene.
Not only would Reverend Peyton's musical abilities and original compositions do the old blues masters proud, he has recently endeavored to record a tribute album of songs by preeminent American Delta bluesman Charley Patton, historically known as the "Father of the Delta Blues" and the "King of the Delta Blues." Charley Patton's songs have inspired musicians and singer/songwriters since the very invention of the blues, like John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf, and Reverend Peyton has regularly cited him as one of his major influences. Now, though Robert Johnson is often widely considered to be the epitome of the Delta blues, as well as the best bluesman ever to lay his hands on a guitar, there are a handful of blues enthusiasts who, having acquired a good deal of knowledge on the subject, have a wildly different opinion. "There is only one King of the Delta blues," Peyton said, "and his name was Charley Patton." And then, "I'll go toe-to-toe with anyone who says different."
Anyone who is familiar with Reverend Peyton's ability to work out and perform a damn good blues or country cover song knows all too well that this tribute is something special, indeed something that few other artists could pull off in such a way. Last year I had the pleasure of receiving and listening to a Hillgrass Bluebilly Records release titled Hiram & Huddie -- a two-disc tribute to Hank Williams Sr. and Leadbelly -- to which Reverend Peyton and his Big Damn Band contributed an impressive cover of Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line." Then, a few months ago, I caught a Reverend Peyton show in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he and the Big Damn Band played a few great covers.
Personally, I'm more of a Blind Willie Johnson man. But that is in no way to suggest that I am unable to recognize what an important part Charley Patton played in the early development of the Delta blues; nor am I unwilling to offer praise where it is most definitely due, taking into consideration his distinct guitar playing and unbelievable gracefulness, the huskey bellows of his unmistakable and far-carrying vocal delivery, his superb showmanship, and also a fairly extensive repertoire of original songs for lifetime cut so tragically short. So it is not difficult to see why Reverend Peyton is taken with Patton and his music.
With thirteen songs from Patton's catalog, Reverend Peyton went to record his versions of them, which he did as the late bluesman had done in the early days of his career, in one day with one microphone. Of course the dominant sounds on the album are Peyton's skillful guitar playing and powerful vocals. The other two in the trio added small bits and pieces to the album, though: Breezy Peyton, the Reverend's wife, provided washboard on a few of the songs, but it is her lovely vocal accompaniment on "Elder Greene Blues" that proves a truly standout feature; and Aaron "Cuz" Persinger, whose drumming is a key component of the Big Damn Band's sound, does his thing in an entirely different way, drumming with his hands on a vintage tobacco barrel. Suffice to say, this tribute project, the aptly titled Peyton on Patton, is an altogether stripped-down approach in comparison to their usual playing, but with good reason, as it was imperative to Peyton that they represent Patton's songs in the most genuine way possible. In fact, in his own words, he stated, "We set out to do this as right as we could. I am a songwriter and an artist, but for this I wanted to stay as true to Charley's music as I could." And after listening to this body of work in its entirety I can confidently say that I think he succeeded in that goal.
Some of the songs Peyton chose from Patton's repertoire are "Jesus is a Dying-Bed Maker," "Some of These Days I'll Be Gone," "Mississippi Boweavil Blues," "Green River Blues," "A Spoonful Blues," "You're Gonna Need Somebody (when you come to die)," and "Shake It and Break It." Every track is brilliantly reworked and executed and committed to recording formats. And what's more, a small handful of the album's songs are not songs one usually comes across on blues tributes including Patton's material, but the more obscure side of his catalog.
Peyton on Patton, managed by the trio's home label SideOneDummy, is set for a July 19th release. At present one can pre-order the tribute album from SideOneDummy's website, where one even has the option of ordering a limited edition 78 rpm 10" vinyl version of the album, along with a digital download and free poster. One can also pick up a copy at one of Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band's shows, which will undboutedly be on their merch table beside their other albums, like the most recent The Wages, its predecessor The Whole Fam Damnily, The Gospel Album, and their full-length studio debut Big Damn Nation. Other than in those ways, one can pick up a copy of Peyton on Patton from select record stores and online music distributors.
*Review originally appeared at The National Examiner. By James G. Carlson, 2011.