“I’m a bluesman — that’s all I know,” Bobby Rush sings on the opening cut of his latest release. It ain’t necessarily so. As his performances on last year’s Take Me to the River: Memphis Soul & R&B Revue tour and in a NPR Tiny Desk Concert alongside William Bell and Don Bryant, backed by Willie Mitchell’s Hi Rhythm Section, showed, Rush is as much at home as a soul man and R&B balladeer as anything bluesy.
Line-blurring is a Rush specialty, as demonstrated in 2004 when he invented a new genre, folk-funk, putting out an album by that name that heavily funked up Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.”
For the sake of argument, he can have his way labeling his music on the follow-up to 2017’s Grammy-winning Porcupine Meat. But even while proclaiming how blue he is on the opener, “Hey Hey Bobby Rush,” there’s as much R as there is B in the mix. The singer admits he’s pulled together elements of Bobby Blue Bland, Junior Parker, and Howlin’ Wolf into his style, and you can hear them peeking out of his vocals for a brief turn before being subsumed into the essence of Rushness.
The opening lyrics for “Good Stuff” are carved right off Howling Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darlin.’” But while Wolf’s workout rocks along with a brassy bigfoot strut, Rush’s tune marches stiffly up a grade into hill country blues. “Sweet Lizzy” blends Wolf and Little Richard in a glorious mashup fit for howlin’ or gettin’ down and wallowing in the groove, curtaining it off with some razor-sharp harp slices.
Rush’s royal roots are showing on “Pookie Poo,” showcasing the ability to connect with his audience that earned him the title of King of the Chitlin Circuit. You can easily envision him charming a room full of women or men, having members of each gender thinking he’s relating exclusively to them. Rush gets his Barry White on with “Slow Motion,” a laid-back lover’s guide to getting down to bedroom business.
You can argue endlessly about what genre Bobby Rush is sitting on top of, but there’s no argument that no matter how he chooses to express himself, Rush is always on top of his game.