Catfish Hodge
Bare Necessities
Chicken Legs Music 5886
From the sepia photograph of a rural Shell gas station on the cover of Bare Necessities, Bob "Catfish" Hodge lets us know that we are about to embark on a country blues journey. He follows through on that promise: Some of these tracks, spare songs that highlight Hodge's voice, guitar playing and songwriting, could have been written 50-60 years ago.

His opening growl on "Queen of the Greens" and the additional slide work by Mary Flower transport us to some country porch where an old bluesman is praising his woman's cooking. A number of the other cuts -- "Tongue in the Mud," "One Man Woman," "High Roller" and "Drive My Car" -- make us feel like we've rediscovered someone from the past or that Catfish has an ancient soul. He's playing with ghosts here, and for the most part, his vocals and guitar playing sustain this feeling.

There is another side that showcases what I call pretty songs. Thematically, they are love songs that sound ripe for an MTV Unplugged session for some singer-songwriter such as John Hiatt or Jackson Browne. (In fact, "The Goodbye Song," "Tears Fall" and "Catch Me" have echoes that are so close to Hiatt's voice on Bring the Family that Catfish may hook some other singers into covering them.) Likewise, "Two Hearts" comes off almost like a lullaby, and all of these are definitely pleasing to the ear.

While there is much to recommend on Bare Necessities, it does have moments of schizophrenia, and to further add to that feeling is an uncredited cut that appears 35 seconds after "The Goodbye Song," which includes a vocal that sounds like a turkey on a bad acid trip. Thankfully, Catfish left that part in the dark end of the pond.

-- John Koetzner

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Boulder, CO, USA.