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May 20, 1998
More Music
First-class juke joint.

Elmo Williams

The young Hasil Adkins

T-Model jukin' it

Spam and T-Model Ford
The Fat Possum Mississippi Juke Joint Caravan comes clanking through the Holland Tunnel on June 10 to deliver one of the grittier blues revues seen in some time. The poorest state in the union has proven itself capable of producing a seemingly endless supply of bona-fide bluesmen, and Fat Possum Records has crawled through the juke joints, roadhouses, and front porches to find the kind of raw, immediate, and sometimes downright filthy music you thought disappeared decades ago.

Included on the bill are Hasil Adkins, T-Model Ford, Robert Cage, and the duo of Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early. Come revel and wallow in some real-life, deep South pathos, treat yourself to a burning shot of corn whiskey (or at least house bourbon) at the bar, and before long you'll be seeing double and feeling single. Oh, and there's a mess of free grits, biscuits, and gravy, too.

After forays into electric blues, Robert Cage has returned to his roots on his spankin' new album, "Robert Cage Can See What You're Doin'." He'll be playing his wondrous, loping classic acoustic blues, followed by the dynamic duo of Elmo Williams and Hezekiah Early, the newest addition to the intimidating Fat Possum roster.

Fat Possum, being fat and a possum, rarely ventures far from home, but it made an exception with Hasil Adkins, who hails from the second most impoverished state of the union. So let us now praise Hasil "The Haze" Adkins, as he emerges from his trailer in the backwoods of West Virginia in support of his new album, "What the Hell was I Thinking?"

Come behold the one-man band who created the Chicken Walk, the Hunch, and offered to be your worst date ever on the brilliant, seminal "Out to Hunch," intoning in a gravelly, spooky groan, "We got ahhhhhhhhhh date...I'm gonna...cut your...uh head off...about, ah, half past...uh...eight."

Known for his screaming vocals, over-the-edge lyrics, discordant percussion, and frantic guitar style, age has brought out a kinder, gentler Haze. We should count ourselves lucky that after years of neglect and obscurity, and some legendary late nights, this man is still alive, pumping out his own brand of soulful, searching country blues.

Hasil--pronounced "hassle"--began playing music when you and I were just glimmers in our grandpappies' eyes, a mere groundnut of five when he saw the light through the songs of Our Father, Hank Williams, Sr. Haze's recent songs are reminiscent of some of Hank's more melancholy tunes, the way they echo across to you as though being called out from across the abyss, notably on the haunting, yet vaguely tongue-in-cheek "Your Memories." This drawling tune segues into a spoken part (Do we love spoken parts!!!), in which Hasil informs us "Gosh...I guess I'll always love you...always care." Love him back, New York!

And finally we have the indomitable T-Model Ford, who claims that "you can't underestimate the power of low-down, nasty lyrics." Judge for yourself if the lurching, driving movement of T-Model's "I'm Insane" keeps your toes a-tappin' to the grit 'n' groove, while this elder statesman of da blues offers to stick his foot all the way up your worthless ass. According to the song, which is autobiographical, he once "went to jail...for kickin' a man's ass!"

A certain population of "classic blues fans" snub their noses at T-Model--but we know better. We want our bluesman to get drunk, get in fights, get arrested, lose his woman, get her back, lose his money, get it back, and finally pass out on the porch to the hum and chirp of a lonesome cricket somewhere out there down the long, dirt road. And like an answer to a prayer, T-Model is there.

While not imbibing corn whiskey, fighting with his indefatigable wife, Stella, or playing all-night juke joints with his enigmatic drummer, Spam, (who is said to be a bubble off plumb, you know, his belt don't go through all the loops), T-Model can be found settin' beneath his favorite shade tree in Greenville, Mississippi, holding court for his rapidly expanding legion of fans.

T-Model didn't even pick up a guitar until age 58, and before that time had plowed fields behind a mule, labored in a sawmill, and drove a logging truck, until he was finally put away for murder. He's been shot, stabbed, locked up, and shackled to a chain gang. He claims to have spent most of his Saturday nights in jail. But heaven protects children, sailors, and drunken men, so T-Model will soon descend on our fair city, backed by the driving, primitive pounding of a man called Spam, bringing the blues back to the people. And that means you and me. Hallelujah!

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