Catfish Keith – Catfish Crawl

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Catfish Crawl, the eighteenth album from Catfish Keith is the sound of one man and his acoustic guitar, having a superb time playing dexterous, feel good folk blues. A lifetime of digging into Delta music means Catfish Keith approaches the material with originality, sensitivity, chops and flair. “Catfish Crawl”, the title and opening track, features his percussive and sometimes knotty finger picking. There is a strong rhythmic pulse with some exciting runs and bends over the top. Keith’s vocals fit the material perfectly, covering growling blues and some looser exultations. “Go Back To Your Used To Be” is altogether darker and atmospheric with resonant notes on the guitar and some expressive flourishes.

Catfish Keith is a guitar master, as expressive and sensitive given space as the most artful Michael Hedges wannabe. He also has impeccable timing, with a voice that sounds like he means it and has walked the walk. This is no multi millionaire playing stadiums singing about drinking cheap bootleg whisky, this is the real deal. The instrumental intros to this track and “Bella Mina”, nuanced and exciting suggest that he has a superb instrumental album in those fingers. His picking and use of harmonics is just top notch. Catfish Keith also has that voice where words become sounds and expressions, on “Bella Mina” it’s almost like tight on the beat scatting. Like John Lee Hooker, he could sing a shopping list and it would sound so cool. “Dixie Darlin’” uses a little double tracking to lift the vocals even further. The pace and long lines suggest a vocal dexterity and power too.

“Don’t You Call Me Crazy” with a wonderfully resonant 12 String, is an expressive song of excess. “Ramblin Blues” by Johnny Shines pushes that resonant folk blues guitar and voice further still. Like the rest of the album the crunch and whine of that bottleneck on the National guitar is perfectly recorded and pops out of the speakers. There is more spark and life here than in a yard of Clapton blues albums as Catfish Keith yelps and croons through the song. “Willie Mae” is from the playing of Big Bill Broonzy. This is stripped back rhythm guitar, tapping foot and crooning vocal. A rhythmic and solid as a train, there is also a delicate sensitivity to the playing, this is a graceful tightrope walk by a ballet dancer with a guitar not mindless head down boogie. “By The Waters of the Minnetonka” is a subtle baritone national guitar instrumental, mixing passages of slide, picking and beautiful harmonics. “Memphis Morning Train” is a homage to the spirit of Arthur Big Boy Crudup. Catfish Keith’s ability to play with timing and space over his rythmic stomping foot alongside an expressive blues vocal is impressive. Catfish Keith delivers a superb version of Furry Lewis’ “Turn Your Money Green”, the guitar was busier and the vocal lower in the mix than other versions is heard, making it an exciting duet between the playing and singing. “Banana In Your Fruit Basket” is pure filth and innuendo in the way that only the blues can. The guitar is steady and rolling, with some wonderful flourishes, while Keith’s vocal smoulders, yelps and steams over the top. “Whats The Matter Now” from Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, marries some sweet crooning vocals and perfect bottleneck to close the set on a high.

Masterful guitar, expressive vocals and a foot like a booted metronome, this is a solid killer album from a remarkable performer and an institution who just gets better with time.

Choice Track: “Go Back to Your Used to Be” (NSV 489)