Review: “Backatchya” by Little Joe Ayers
Now that blues legends R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough are no longer with us, I am certain most fans would agree that the North Mississippi Hill Country scene just isn’t the same. And this style as a whole would no doubt be in jeopardy of finding itself shelved somewhere in the vast archives of music history, if not for the few remaining artists whose time has come to step forward from the backing bands of the greats to becoming greats themselves. Devil Down Records knows the importance of the continuation of Hill Country blues, as evidenced by the release of two particular albums over the course of this year, first with Can’t Stay Long, the two-disc set by blues veteran Kenny Brown, who is known for having played in R.L. Burnside’s band, and more recently with Backatchya, an album by Little Joe Ayers, talented bluesman and longtime member of Junior Kimbrough’s Soul Blues Boys.
It was only recently that I got my hands on Little Joe Ayers’ Backatchya album. Made up of both previously unreleased originals and Hill Country classics, Backatchya isn’t just a remarkable collection of songs, it’s also a statement of sorts, telling those of us who value this style of music and lament its extinction that the last of the true bluesmen have not gone, that Little Joe Ayers is still here to lay it down with as much soul and grit as they always have.
Speaking of the way it’s always been done, while listening to the thirteen songs on Backatchya, one can definitely take note of the way Ayers’ sound holds certain similarities to that of the late Junior Kimbrough, along with something altogether his own. In other words, his sound is still a unique version of country blues, with minimial chord changes and unorthodox song structures, the repetition and catchy note work, and a steady groove throughout, coupled with his soulful Southern vocals, cool attitude, and plenty of heart. As with most blues material, Ayers’ lyrical content is often centered on real life. The entire album is just Little Joe Ayers playing acoustic guitar and singing; no additional instrumentation, no studio effects, and nothing unnatural to the live song. Indeed these are the type of blues songs that can be played while sitting on the front porch by oneself. Backatchya might as well be an old field recording from the late ’50s or early ’60s.
“Don’t Leave Me Baby,” “I’m Sorry,” “40 Train,” “Keep Your Hands Off Her,” “Two Trains Running,” “.44,” and “I Asked for Water” are just a handful of the songs on Backatchya’s tracklisting. It is a truly great the whole way through, though. And it is a must have for any country blues enthusiast. After all, Little Joe Ayers is the real deal. He is the blues.
Will you see Ayers coming to your town on tour? Not likely. Though he is a bluesman, he has no desire to make a career of it. He wants neither the money nor recognition it can bring. In fact, on the album there is a moment between songs where he comments, “I wouldn’t play the guitar for a living for nothin’ in the world. Wouldn’t try it.” One would have to travel to Holly Springs, Mississippi and seek Mr. Ayers out, where one would no doubt find him sitting around in his overalls and cap, playing his guitar like it was the end of the world and it was the last song he would ever play, and belting out the lyrics with that big ‘ol wavery voice of his.
I have to admit that I appreciate Devil Down Records’ efforts in releasing such material, especially since labels like Fat Possum, who almost singlehandly popularized Hill Country blues among the newer generations, are no longer concerning themselves with the blues in any way at all. Personally, I can’t wait to see what comes next from Devil Down.
*Review originally appeared in The National Examiner(roots section). Subscribe for free for updates on reviews and articles/interviews.