TRACK REVIEW: Cedric Burnside - We Made It



Cedric Burnside


We Made It





The track, We Made It, is available via:




Mississippi, U.S.A.


The album, Benton County Relic, is available via:


14th September, 2018


THE last couple of days…


have allowed me the chance to look in other directions for music and break away from what I usually do. This time around, I am investigating Cedric Burnside and a few points relevant to him. Burnside is the grandson of the legendary R.L. Burnside and you get embers of the great man himself. I want to talk about the Blues and how that has evolved; Mississippi and how Burnside still resides there; the upbringing he had and why his background affects his music; how he recorded his album, Benton County Relic, quickly and why we need to spend time around an artist like Burnside. You might have heard that surname but Cedric Burnside does not copycat his grandfather – he has the same sense of passion but tackles Blues in a slightly different manner. I am a new convert to Cedric Burnside and have been diving into his music. I have not followed the Blues for a while and I think we all get the impression the genre is going to be rather old and predictable. Think of the Blues legends like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House and Blind Willie McTell and you definitely get a sense of what the Blues was about in the 1920s and 1930s. I dip in time and again but it is quite hard to get into a head-space where I can sit and listen to the Blues. Maybe there is not enough going on or there is something lacking in the production. Whatever it is, I feel many of us avoid the genre because it lacks spark, magic and physicality. I am interested tracing the Blues back seven or eight decades because, in many ways, those artists are the forefathers of what we hear now. Listen to what is in the mainstream right now and, to some degree, you can trace it back to the Blues. It is a vital genre that holds so much power and is very influential – even if you are not a fan of the original source.


My favourite sort of Blues is when it is sprinkled with Rock and Garage. I am a big fan of The White Stripes and The Black Keys and love what they did. Maybe we do not hear so much Blues-inspired music in the mainstream but that is a shame. Not only can you provide gritty and confessional lyrics but the music has that urgency, kick and electricity. Cedric Burnside is someone who has not betrayed and modernised the lyrical roots of the Blues. He has managed to put his own life and stories into the pot but has updated the Blues. There are acoustic moments and something that reminds one of players like Son House but the electricity has been cranked up and it is a lot more fresh and exciting. I know the Burnside legacy and realise what pressure there is to produce work that is true and loyal to the lineage. I feel Burnside is someone who can convert people to the Blues and has plenty going on in his music. Many wonder whether Rock and Alternative are dead because you do not get enough captivating and memorable bands out there. Maybe that is exaggerated – listen to the likes of Wolf Alice – but there is less wonder and popularity than there was decades ago. What strikes me about Burnside is the way he can provide exhilarating and rich compositions but address themes that are personal and deep. A lot of artists concentrate on love and generic themes but Burnside goes further and brings you into his world. I will talk about that in a second but, before I move on, it is worth bending your ears to the music of Cedric Burnside and seeing where he came from. Many artists do not interest me in terms of their family and background but the Burnside name is one that has excited and influenced music for generations. You are compelled to look at where Cedric Burnside came from and how he has impacted music. It warrants a big screen adaptation because, when you look closely, there is so much we can teach other musicians and those interested in the Blues.


Cedric Burnside still resides in Holly Springs, Mississippi and is not one of those artists who has abandoned his roots. It may not seem like the most interesting and scenic part of the U.S. to live but it somewhere that means a lot to him and he holds it very dear. Burnside was raised on the Hill County variant of the Blues and the unorthodox version one might hear. That is why his sound strays away from the more traditional and honed variety – there is something almost spiritual and enflamed about his interpretation and it is one that, I feel, is much more relevant and substantial than the old-school Blues. Burnside grew up around the likes of Otha Turner, and T-Model Ford; he listened to a lot of modern music but it was the Blues pioneers that inspired him. There are some great Soul and R&B singers emerging from Holly Springs but it is not renowned for its overflow of great music. It is less productive in terms of music but it is a space where Burnside feels most comfortable and pure. Mississippi is one of the most deprived and neglected parts of America and I bet there are a million stories one can hear from the people. Most would associate Mississippi with legends like Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King but there are modern musicians in the state who cover a range of genres. Mississippi has its French Quarter and there are so many cultures running through the state. Many might forgive him for living in New York or L.A. – so he can get that exposure and explore somewhere huge – but he has no reason to leave where he is from and what made him. If anything, the state is more important regarding his music than it is his personal growth and happiness. By that, I mean you can hear the history and heart of Mississippi come through in the music and everything he does. It gives his Blues authenticity and a flavour many of us are foreign to.


Burnside was born to play the Blues and has been surrounded by that music his entire life. He is a black artist who, like many of his peers, has had to struggle for attention and been overlooked by the Government. Many African-Americans have had to fight for their rights and to be heard. That is not news but the fact it happens in 2018 is shocking. Music is a great way of ensuring we are all aware and conscious of the plight. I guess Rap and R&B are genres that provide a platform for black Americans to discuss what they are going through and how their ancestors have had to struggle. It is a way for them to sing loud and have their voice but that seems like scant consolation. The U.S. Government should be doing more but, look back through history, and the fate of the black citizen has been hard and ignored. The reason why Burnside is so passionate and determined is so he can tell his story and document the way his people have struggled. There are great Rap and R&B artists out there but Blues, for decades, was the way for black Americans to vocalise their fight and talk about the reality of their situation. Blues is a genre that is not as popular as it once was but, with the likes of Burnside established and popular, I would like to see the genre rise. Benton County Relic is an album that is Burnside’s story; a way of scoring his situation and background; talking about social themes and touching on political concerns. It is a fascinating album that inspired me to review a cut from it. One might argue his music would be less potent and memorable if he hailed from somewhere like New York. Mississippi is a state that has been synonymous with Blues masters but, in the current time, it is still compelling musicians.


Mississippi is a fantastic state but its poverty and deprivation do affect how people perceive it. Look closely and there is a rich musical seam running throughout. Burnside recorded his album in only two days and performed it alongside drummer/slide guitarist Brian Jay in the latter’s Brooklyn home studio. Whilst the album was recorded in New York; it is Mississippi and the bones of Burnside that run through the songs. One gets that blend of old-style Blues and traditional sounds and a more immediate flair. It is not the Blues sound of the 1930s one can hear in Cedric Burnside’s music. Artists like Led Zeppelin and The White Stripes spring to mind when hearing Burnside’s Blues and it means there is a much more commercial and accessible aspect to it. I am excited to see if he produces more music next year but, right now, he is talking about where he came from and the heartache he has endured. From growing up in a poverty-stricken house where there was no T.V. and entertainment to suffering the loss of his parents, uncle and brother in quick succession…it has been a long road and one that has been paved with tragedy. It is fascinating seeing him talk about hard times and how he managed to grow from those foundations. I am sure his words will inspire other artists to come through and talk about their story but you listen to Burnside sing and you get this distinct impression of how he grew up and why the Blues is so important to him. It might be hard for Burnside to remain cool and composed given the fact he has come from such hard times and is seeing so many black Americans struggle and live in such squalor. The music he is creating right now cuts much deeper than his previous work and is the most urgent record he has put his name to. Cedric Burnside is one of the most important musicians around right now and you need to hear how he sings and the electricity coming from him to know how much it all means.


Burnside was Grammy-nominated in 2015 for Best Blues Album (for the Cedric Burnside Project’s Descendants of Hill Country) and he is a coveted musicians. Burnside is trying to update the Blues and make it more accessible to young generations. Maybe his previous work has been more traditional in terms of his sound but the 2018-Burnside is a more fired-up and rocking sort. I hear elements of The White Stripes in his work but, to be fair, it sound completely new. What amazes me is how Burnside talks about themes such as losing loved ones and growing up in a poor state whilst making the music resonate and connect. It is a brilliant brew that seems to unify R.L. Burnside and old Blues masters and nods to modern-day Rock and Garage bands. I feel it is the perfect combination and something we should all be paying attention to. So much of modern music is about cliché themes and relationship talk that it becomes stale and annoying. You do get artists that go beyond the ordinary but they are few and far between. The commercial dollar still holds clout but I am drawn to artists who are much more intriguing and deep. Burnside is not one who is going to sell his values and talk about love and boring themes – even if there is a bit of romance and heartbreak in what he does. Instead, you get family values and bold confessions; exposure regarding his early life and how he became the man is today. I would love to see this continue and thrive on future albums because I feel it is artists like Burnside saying so much more than anyone else. Many of us are unaware of the struggle out there and how many artists started their lives. Few of us are aware of the realities and how people like Burnside got into music. Blues is a genre that many ignore and feel it is going to be the same as it was decades ago.


We Made It opens Benton County Relic and starts with a lot of fascination. You get a few flecks of guitar and some grumbling electronics. It teases you in and there is that feeling something will explode and something great is going to occur. One feels some tension and anticipation but things get chugging and moving pretty quickly. Without Burnside speaking a word; you get this nice duel between the guitars and drum. It is propulsive and catchy and provokes an image of a train moving along. There is that old-school Blues grumble combined with the electricity and modernity of music today. The production is never too crowded or polished: it allows the rawness to come through and ensures there is that live-sounding feeling. It is impossible to get beyond that hooky and mesmeric composition that scratches, struts and strums. The flair and colour one feels from the song is wonderful. You are helpless but to groove along and let the potent rhythms get under the skin. Boogying, bouncing and kicking along, you are cast under Burnside’s spell. The hero keeps his hair and head straight even when he is down and low and, as the chorus attests, he has made it. He is also speaking to another party; maybe his family or a sweetheart who has gone through the same things. I get the feeling Burnside is talking about his past and how he grew up in tough times. There is that hurt and struggle but the defiance and determination is primal. Burnside never explodes or gets carried away: he has sass and cool but there is a lot of emotion and physicality behind his performance. I am always drawn to the way his voice is backed and what a funky, compelling sound one hears. If you are new to the Blues or think you have it figured then you need to hear Cedric Burnside.


From the very first moments of We Made It, you are transformed and drawn into this mystical world. Even though there was no running water in the house – or hot water at the very least – you have to imagine his childhood was intense. The hero talks about that struggle and poverty but the chorus keeps coming back: he made it out and made it through. It is always as though Burnside is speaking about other people and those he knows – whether the family he grew up around or the people of Mississippi. The locomotive and propulsive guitar-and-drums combination gives you shivers and smiles; the vocal has a rumbling depth that reminds me of Howlin’ Wolf but has plenty of Burnside’s D.N.A. Rather than throw too many words into the song and reveal too much; Burnside allows the music to do some talking and strut. It is a fantastic swirl of notes that has ample kick and wonder. It grumbles in the blood and blends into the marrow; seeps into the soul and gets the feet moving. I always picture his growing up and living in a house where he and his family had to struggle. He had grown and survived those days but is not willing to ignore where he came from. The Blues is about your roots and laying down the truth. Burnside is not going to ignore an important part of his life and what he has had to come through. The hero comes back into the fray and keen to deliver that mandate. He has seen the worst of times unfold and never thought he would make it. The lyrics on the song are not complex and there are few individual lines but it is the focus of his message and the way he delivers his lines that makes We Made It stand out. Cedric Burnside fuses with the backing brilliantly and there is that steam that builds and explodes. I was helpless but to surrender to the song and how it carries you along.


There are great songs on Benton County Relic but few are as interesting and swivelling as We Made It. A perfect opener to the album and a true assessment of who Cedric Burnside is and what he is all about. The song is a perfect introduction to a brilliant artist. Ensure you get back and listen to what other material he has produced and see how he has grown. Burnside is masterful in everything to do and sounds at his most confident and rich right now. I know there are other Blues artists out there but none who have the same spritz, magic and brilliance as him. We Made It reveals more layers and truths the more you listen to it and gives you goosebumps. I am one of those people who can immerse themselves in a genre and is not willing to simply pick here and there. The Blues has been out of my mind for a while and I have not really seen anything that turns my head. Burnside’s updating of the form has got me reinvested and makes me realise what a fantastic style of music it is. You get the gravitas of the Blues masters and the sounds of old but he makes everything sound contemporary and new. Get your ears around Cedric Burnside and his brilliant. Not only does it move the body and mind but it gets the heart pumping and makes you come back time and time again. Not many artists have that addictiveness and sense of purpose – reasons why we should celebrate Cedric Burnside and promote him far and wide.


Benton County Relic is a fantastic album that has many great songs and ear-catching lyrics. You do not need to listen too hard to know how inspired Burnside sounds and how much the music means. The guitars are fantastic and you get big riffs and pumping sounds. It is a hot and spicy brew of sounds and that, combined with the hard-hitting and personal lyrics means you get a record that is much more immediate and enduring than anything out there. I have not heard an L.P. that cuts as deep and sounds so fresh. The songs never sound crowded and too rehearsed. The fact it was recorded in a couple of days means it has that live-sounding quality and reminds one The White Stripes. You never feel like you are listening to anyone else but there are those memories and flecks running through. A bold and colourful sound that gets into the brain and bones; everything from the record gets into the head and makes you smile. That is not to say the lyrics lack emotion and you pass them by – Benton County Relic is a profound and affecting documentation of a talented artist who has gone through a lot and has the Blues running through his veins. Listening to Cedric Burnside makes me look back at the Blues and his relatives; how the genre has evolved and grown and why we need to listen to what he says. I wonder what more is coming from Burnside and how he will develop over the next few years. There is a lot going on in the U.S. and one feels political situations and developments are affecting him. Mississippi is still with him – as he resides there – and he still lives around struggle. I would love to see Burnside play in the U.K. and bring his music to the people here. The man is a compelling and engaging artist and I feel it is only a matter of time before he is a big name here.


I am pumped to see where he heads and how his music will evolve. I feel we still rely too much on Pop music and what is promoted in the mainstream – it means we are missing out on so much and do not really get the chance to explore in more depth. Cedric Burnside is an artist who is revitalising the Blues and has a serious talent. His music cuts deep and he is able to unify the old and new. For those who love the foundations of Blues and what it stands for will not be disappointed; anyone who wants something more intense and body-moving will gravitate towards Benton County Relic. If you have not heard the album then it is worth getting stuck into and spending a lot of time around. Every song has its place and tells its own story. I am someone who is familiar with the Blues and what it is all about. It is not viable to possess the same Blues sound as was present in the 1930s but that does not mean it should be overlooked and written off. I am one of those people who feels a few tweaks and modifications can enliven and revitalise a genre. Cedric Burnside is bringing the Blues to new ears and not willing to let it rest. Make sure you follow Cedric Burnside and what is happening in his life right now. There will be tour dates and new developments and I feel 2019 will be an important year for him. Things are going really well and his music is hitting hard and teaching us all lessons. I get a real sense of where he is from and why music means so much to him. It is hard to explain but artists like Burnside stay in the mind for a lot longer and makes a genuine impression. Get behind Burnside and what is contained within Benton County Relic. It is a brilliant album and I was eager to review We Made It. It is a fantastic song that seems to define the record and shows how exciting Burnside is. If you have not heard of him now, make sure you correct that and…


GET lost in his world!


Follow Cedric Burnside