Thursday, June 26, 2008


photo courtesy of tiina liimu

First of all let's get this straight: You can call Chris Cotton a lot of names. Call him Cotton, Slappy, Wingnut McSpazz-O-Tron, yr daddy, or Mr. Cotton, Sir. But don't call him a bluesman. And don't call his music blues, either. Gatemouth Brown suffered the same curse and carried a similar cross. What Mr. Brown played wasn't really blues either but to a lot of ears it might have sounded like it. I won't bother to go into that whole "black man playing guitar it must be blues" thing. You are smart enough to figure that out. Chris Cotton doesn't hardly sound a thing like Mr.Gatemouth Brown but both do (or in the case of Mr. Brown "did") excel at spreading their sound across a rich loamy rock-free field of music while still sounding completely themselves. Both have done all they can to dig themselves out of that shiny Tommy Bahama shirt laden blues ghetto. Here's the thing about Cotton's music. The more you hear it and the more intently you listen to it, the more you find is revealed. Cotton plays with a deceptive ease. Not a laid back hippie ease but rather that of one comfortable with himself and his instrument, his fellow players, and his skills. Skills which you'll find are utterly formidable. The comfort and ease with which Cotton's singing and playing come across makes his music feel like you're wearing all your favorite clothes at the same time. Maybe your worn old punk rock boots with your coolest dark blue country cowboy shirt with bright Pearline buttons and cigarette burns, soft old jeans you stole from your dad with the patches and holes that mark and reveal where they've been and that dirty old slouch hat with the sweat stained band you picked up in Memphis. But when you start to peel off all the layers it's still the original thing underneath. Cotton's music is organic. It's who he is. It's what he does. Without creepy wispy adaptation or precious faux affectation or special outfits or any other extemporaneous B.S.

Chris Cotton is a songster. I don't think he'll mind me calling him that. What the hell is a songster? Leadbelly was a songster. He knew all the hits of the day. Mississippi John Hurt and Furry Lewis too. They made those songs theirs. They knew blues, too, but it wasnt' all they knew. Same with Cotton's special rider man Blind Willie McTell. And just like them, Cotton plays pop music. You just don't recognize it that way. The difference is history. Cotton's musical forefathers were usually one man operations that played what was happening then and not often for a socially mixed audience, if you know what I mean. Cotton, too, is playing what's happening then. The difference is a couple hundred years of musical history. It's as if Cotton has somehow absorbed the ink from a two-hundred year long songbook and he uses that songbook for watercolor paper covering it with his own original washes and colors mixed with the original ancient ink to paint textures both coarse and fine. Textures like the sitar in the third track of the three track suite that holds the belly of the album, and the deft vocal exchanges with friend and neighbor John Henry on I'm Going Home (one of two Cotton co-writes on this ten piece album) as well as the duets with fellow west coaster(and fine artist in her own right)Paige. It's the HERE and NOW that Cotton filters the music of THEN through.
The unfortunate thing for Chris Cotton is that people rarely LiSTEN to music anymore. When was the last time you put on an album and sat down on the couch and actually listened to it without some sort of multi-tasking? And LISTENiNG is what has to happen for Cotton to escape that blues ghetto and the clutch of The Dudes who care more about what gauge of strings their god Robert Johnson used on Terraplane than they do about being moved. Taken at face value Cotton will be accepted or dismissed based on blues taste makers. Just as Gatemouth Brown was. Unfortunately for Chris Cotton most of the taste the bald headed pony tailed panama hatted bluesers (or the spelling they would probably prefer "Bluezers") have is in their mouth. Blanket indictment? Damn Straight. Chris Cotton and I would be more than happy for you to prove us wrong. Cotton has assembled a dynamite album that is akin to his previous releases but a couple years stronger and deeper. An album that rewards the listener who pays attention with each subsequent play. An album that, once you hear it will cause your jaw to drop and your eyes to bug out when you find out it was recorded completely live with no overdubs. Do any of your wankin' souless bluezerstars do that? Cotton would, should, could be king. His coronation is up to you.

Actually The Big Sea contains eleven pieces including the Cotton style hill-country hidden track Farm Jam which drops at three minutes in. This track features Cotton on guitar as well as John Henry on bass and Dirty Simonson on drums. This combo does not appear elsewhere on the CD.
Cotton briefly went to college where I grew up but we never met. Countless years later I got to back him up on drums at Deep Blues Festival number one.

Chris Cotton on MySpace
Cotton's gorgeous website

You can get yr grubby little paws on The Big Sea
directly from mr.Cotton via MySpace

Three tracks from The Big Sea

CHECK OUT the post on Cotton by our pal at NiNEBULLETS.NET!


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