Catfish Keith
Pony Run
Fish Tail Records 006

Given the number of overproduced albums on the market, it is always refreshing to find a release that goes for quality playing and sound production and eschews the popular tendency to over-indulgence. In his seventh release, Catfish Keith has moved deeper into country blues, keeping it simple in production but complex on the frets.

The disc opens with the rollicking "I Just Can’t Help It," featuring some tasty tickling of the ivories by Radoslav Larkovic. Larkovic also lends his ample talent to "Funky Butt," a song that sounds like it belongs in a New Orleans speakeasy. Later in the proceedings, Catfish invites Larkovic to do some improvisation on "Sweet Potatoes." All three cuts have that informal roadhouse feel where someone might walk through just to grab a beer.

Catfish puts himself stage center with "Butt Dance," a slide showcase that captures even more of that down-home Louisiana feel. Yet he saves his best slide runs for "Doggone My Bad Luck Soul," a song that is as haunting as it is inspirational, and he makes his strings sing their mournful tune.

The title song, a Catfish Keith original, fits as neatly into this set as any of the songs he covers from the past hundred years of blues history. His singing is soulful and sweet as hay in the springtime, and the playing is unpretentious, like we ought to be back on the porch sipping on some cold ones because this is just a warm-up for the show later on.

Even songs such as "Catfish Blues" and "Buffalo Gals" work beyond expectations. Keith performs with the conviction of one who fully lives the songs and always feels like the real thing. Even the weaker cuts, "Champagne Charlie" and "Canned Heat," show enough feeling to be entertaining but merely less memorable than the other songs in the set.

Catfish Keith has been nominated for Best Acoustic Blues Album at the Handy Awards several times in the ’90s. I suspect that this disc may well contend for that honor — and this time he may just hook one.

John Koetzner

©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA