"This album is definitely more different from anything I have ever written or recorded in the past," Burnside tells Billboard. "Not many people have heard me play the electric guitar, let alone the guitar in general. As long as I am able to play music I will stay true to the foundation that was laid by the legends of Mississippi Hill Country Blues, especially my Big Daddy, but this album is the beginning of a testament of what Mississippi Hill Country Blues feels like in my heart. That is where my style comes from and my style of playing is just that -- my style, and I’m going to keep it pushing."
Burnside recorded Benton County Relic, the follow-up to 2015's Grammy Award-nominated Descendants of Hill Country by the Cedric Burnside Project, with drummer/slide guitarist Brian Jay in Jay's Brooklyn home studio. The sensibility, however, is decidedly down-home -- and, in fact, was the product of Burnside woodshedding back home in Mississippi before taking the songs north.
"As life happened, I would go outside on my front porch and use my guitar and pen to paint a picture of what was going on in my life," he says. "A friend and I came up with the name of the album, which represents where I come from both physically and musically."
That sound on Benton County Relic, due out Sept. 14, is spare, spacious and gritty but with a biting timeless flavor that makes the 12-song set more than just a slavish homage. "Ain't Gonna Take No Mess," for instance, rides a tough, muscular groove that would be a comfortable fit for Led Zeppelin or Jack White. The track is also a message for anyone who might try to place parameters on Burnside's music.
"Really that song came about when I was just messing around, singing in the studio," Burnside recalls. "Brian Jay heard it and said I really needed to do something with it and wouldn't take no for an answer. I made it about me and Hill Country Blues...I've been playing almost 30 years now. Some people think I don’t deserve to be where I am with it but it's who I am, what I am. I AM Hill Country Blues. This is my whole life, and I'm not going to listen to anyone who tells me what I can and can't do."
Burnside has shows booked into November. More dates are expected to be added as the album's release approaches.