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Charlie Feathers: That Rock-A-Billy Cat (Edsel)

Of all Feathers' latter-day recordings, these are the finest. And, given that many might find the marvelous Revenant double-set something of a stretch for the wallet - and, by nature, not so perfectly programmed - this might well be the best place to start. Not that you'll be saving any money, mind you. Because once this one’s seeped its way into your life, you'll just have to find the cash for the Revenant.

Because there's just no substitute for this man's music…

Admittedly, the title's something of a misnomer. Cut in 1967/9 in Memphis, less than half of the material here - even by the broadest definition - could be considered rockabilly. Instead, what we've got is the pick of Feathers' repertoire - and artistry - as he confronts the fact that rockabilly is now ancient history, country music is mainly a bloated & over-orchestrated parody of its formerly lean & heartbroken self, and that there isn't a label in the country that'll even consider recording him.

Half-Irish & half-Cherokee by descent - and all bloody-minded individualist - Charlie wouldn't let that stop him. And, nor would he tailor his music for the market. In consequence, we've been left w/this album - originally issued only by the tiny Barrelhouse label in 1979 - documenting his most most country-oriented music since the early fifties.

Not that this is countrypolitan. Or even Nashville. Because, in some ways, Feathers' most unique music is the strange halfbreed he developed between honkytonk & rockabilly - and which is bluesier than either…

We might, I think, consider the great bluesman Junior Kimbrough the grandfather of the style - since he taught Charlie how to play guitar, and there are definite hints of it in some of Kimbrough's recordings. Whatever the parentage, though, Feathers is the sole full-blown master of the style. And, here, on tracks such as “Mama Oh Mama” & “Cold Dark Night”, he fully unveils it for, perhaps, the first time. The music is so bare-bones that it makes James Brown's leanest 60s work - or even Johnny Cash - sound positively fulsome. It's damn near purely rhythm. And yet the choked guitar chords exist on the cusp between blues & country - while the nervous beat, even on the slowest songs, speaks directly from the heart of the rockabilly moment.

If you've never heard this music, then you've missed something unique….

John Henry Calvinist