Darker Blues is ostensibly a picture book devoted to the artists of Fat Possum Records. And this elegant tome—which also includes a comic book and two CDs—adds up to a self-published sta

Darker Blues is ostensibly a picture book devoted to the artists of Fat Possum Records. And this elegant tome—which also includes a comic book and two CDs—adds up to a self-published statement of aesthetic purpose by the independent blues label.

For a decade, Fat Possum has introduced a generation of listeners to the hypnotic, harsh music of the North Mississippi hill country.

The company has taken some heat from blues purists who condemn its down-and-dirty approach. Founder Matthew Johnson swats back at them in the book's foreword.

"I just record blues guys who were overlooked by other labels because they hadn't toured, or had only limited repertoires, or were unreliable or refused to play standing up," Johnson explains. "Guys who sometimes have trouble standing up, yet excel at falling down."

Those musicians stare out from photographer David Raccuglia's sharply focused shots, weathered, worn, often worn-out, clad in everything from overalls to iridescent suits. Each portrait comes with a capsule biography; the texts do not ignore the bitter lives and misbegotten careers of their subjects.

In addition to depicting such Mississippi progenitors as R.L. Burnside, T-Model Ford, and the late Junior Kimbrough, the book essays such rock- oriented acts as 20 Miles, the duo led by Judah Bauer of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and eccentric guitarist Bob Log III.

Joe Sacco's six-page comic insert, originally published in Details, is an uneasily humorous account of a chaotic Fat Possum tour and its miscreant stars.

The CDs—one a multi-act anthology, the other devoted to principal label luminary Burnside—offer undiluted hill country blues and specimens of the radical remixes that have enraged more traditionally-oriented blues fans.—CM