Joe Barry – Been Down That Muddy Road
Though little-known today, Joe Barry is a major figure in the annals of swamp-pop, the regional mix of blues, country, Cajun music and rock ‘n’ roll that was a staple on jukeboxes and dance floors along the Gulf coast during the 1960s. Barry’s only top-40 hit was a strolling remake of Ted Daffan’s “I’m A Fool To Care” (#24, 1961). But the sides he cut for Leo Soileau and Huey Meaux between 1959 and 1965 — originals interspersed with sure shots from the likes of Allen Toussaint and Mac Rebennack — were just as strong, evincing much the same liquid phrasing and unhurried groove as prime Fats Domino.
Hard luck and harder living tanked Barry’s career, but now, nearly four decades later, he’s back with Been Down That Muddy Road, a ruminative — and, improbably, vital (he’s in failing health) — autobiographical wonder. Some of that verve comes from his backing band, a loose-limbed unit replete with a swinging horn section and astringent strings that has played with Jean Knight, Ernie K-Doe, and Domino himself.
The band’s facility with everything from choogling boogies (“Back To New Orleans”) and bon ton two-steps (“Hey La La”) to redemptive southern gothic (“Backstreets Of Houston”) and Elvis-steeped countrypolitan (“Louisiana Moon”) certainly lets Barry show off the depth and catholicity of his gifts. It’s ultimately the humanity he conveys with his craggy Cajun baritone, though, that makes Been Down That Muddy Road so disarming, and never more so than on the funereal country blues of “So Long, Goodbye”.
“Last night I heard black wolf howlin’/Looks like my time’s gettin’ near,” Barry begins, moaning low like Lightnin’ Hopkins. Then, after confessing that his “old lungs and heart have turned weary, cold, and hard,” he hears “that slow train comin'” and, with a commingling of humility, awe, and resolve, he bids the world adieu.