Catfish Keith, Blues at Midnight

“He’s not just playing the blues but taking it to a new level, so much spirit and heart.” (Richard Newman)

Catfish Keith is a jaw-droppingly good guitarist and one of the finest exponents of acoustic blues you’ll ever hear. But although he echoes and recalls the guitar blues of yesteryear, hi plays with vitality, bags of energy and, well…beauty. Not to mention his ability to rework an old blues tune and imbue it with new life for a modern audience.

In this, his 19th album, though, multiple Grammy nominee Catfish Keith focuses entirely on his own original songs. It’s a “best of” essentially, with songs culled from his forty year career, and if you’re any sort of blues fan at all, it’s a treasure trove of complex finger-picking, slide playing, good tunes and good fun, all done in the spirit of the first generation of blues and roots music.

He said of the album, A big part of my life since the beginning has been digging in the treasure trove and finding inspiration in the places where it all started. You will hear echoes of Jessie Mae Hemphill, Johnny Shines, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Blake, Joseph Spence, and so many others. These songs are all my own, yet straight out this beautiful tradition. I am very proud of this record!”

Armed with a roomful of acoustic and resonator guitars, in Blues at Midnight Catfish Keith as usual sounds like there are about three guitars in play rather than just one. After the  stomping opener, Xima Jo Road, things are slowed down driven by an insistent bass run with a cool response on the upper strings in Pack My Little Suitcase, with plenty of good fun in the guitar solo.

Good wit is always a feature of a Catfish Keith album. Your Head’s Too Big, harks back to some of the saucy songs of the early blues, with Keith matching the lyrics with a jaunty accompaniment that’ll have you smiling for sure. Can’t Be Undone continues on the same vein, with Catfish’s lyrical articulation adding to the entertainment. In Catfish’s blues, you’ll get plenty of blues feeling and blues tropes, unfaithful women, ramblin’ men and so on – but, like the early blues, it’s not all about hardship and trial. There’s life, there’s resilience, there’s fun.

I’ve not heard Catfish Keith live – I hope to remedy that once we get past this present pandemic impasse – but I’d imagine he puts on quite a show. Roll You In My Arms, the only live number included, sounds raw and urgent, with Keith’s delivering a compelling vocal performance.

Even if we’re all a bit constrained from moving about too much right now, Keith takes us on a little tour – whether it’s the Delta, or the easy-going islands, with West Indian Waltz the album’s sole instrumental, featuring Keith’s slide resonator, or Move to Louisiana, with its rootsy fiddle accompaniment.

Blues at Midnight is a thirteen song treat from a master of acoustic blues – don’t miss it.

Songs include: Xima Jo Road, Pack My Little Suitcase, Jumpin’ Jack Rabbit, Blues at Midnight, Pony Run, Weep Like a Willow (Hey, Pretty Mama), Your Head’s Too Big, Roll You in My Arms (Just Like a Wagon Wheel), Can’t Be Undone, West Indian Waltz, Move to Louisiana, Way Out West, Oh, Mr. Catfish.