MUSIC

Cedric Burnside talks hunting through COVID and turning his grief into I Be Trying

BLUESMAN: Cedric Burnside solidifies his position as the torch-bearer of hill country blues on his new album I Be Trying. Picture: Abraham Rowe
BLUESMAN: Cedric Burnside solidifies his position as the torch-bearer of hill country blues on his new album I Be Trying. Picture: Abraham Rowe

CEDRIC Burnside jokes he's the "first hill country bluesman to have a falconry licence."

Indeed, he's also probably one of the only Grammy nominees to be accredited to hunt with birds of prey.

"Right now I'm an apprentice and I have a sponsor," Burnside says. "I'm looking at the tests online. Doing that during the COVID really helped me through.

"Eagles can hunt deer, owls can hunt small deer, and hawks can hunt stuff like squirrels and rabbits. I thought that was so interesting."

Burnside is talking falconry from his porch, following a storm, on a humid summer evening in Ashland, Mississippi. The small town of 500 is situated in the heart of northern Mississippi's hill country, which boasts an almost mythical status in the world of blues music.

Burnside's grandfather or his "big daddy", as he describes him, was R.L Burnside, one of the innovators of hill country blues. It's a brand of country-blues characterised by its polyrhythmic percussion and hypnotic riffs.

Since the age of 13 when he began playing drums in his grandfather's band, the 42-year-old Burnside has been immersed in hill country blues.

After a series of collaborations, Burnside picked up the guitar and released his debut solo record Descendants of Hill Country in 2015, which earned a best blues album nomination at the 2016 Grammys.

This was followed by 2018's Benton County Relic, which was nominated for best traditional blues album, cementing Burnside's status as the future of hill country blues.

Despite Burnside's career soaring over the past decade, he's battled constant grief and heartache. His brother Cody died aged 29 in 2012, followed by his father, Calvin Jackson, three years later. Then he lost his mother, Linda Burnside, in 2017.

The pain and resilience Burnside discovered to endure the setbacks was channelled into his third album I Be Trying. The 13-track record opens with the acoustic lament of The World Can Be So Cold and features the aspirational title track where Burnside declares, "I be trying but I'm only human," over a hypnotic guitar riff and backing vocals from his youngest daughter Portrika, 15.

"I went through a lot, man," Burnside says. "I Be Trying is expressing, not only loss I have had in my family, but also disappointment.

"Family has hurt me in a lot of ways, and also things I've done. Me hurting other people. There's a lot of that that went on in my past.

"I wanted to look at things differently and dig deep and evaluate myself, not just writing music for the hell of it.

"I want to write what I go through. What my family go through. What friends go through and express that through my music.

"Believe it or not, sometimes I don't have the words to express to people how I feel. I can't say it in words. I found out I can say it better through music."

I want to write what I go through. What my family go through.

Cedric Burnside

I Be Trying is also about the healing power of love. It's a sentiment the father-of-three has become more fixated on since COVID-19 spread around the world.

Burnside wrote Love Is The Key in 30 minutes just prior to heading into the studio with the pandemic fresh in his mind.

ALL SMILES: Cedric Burnside returned to performing live three months ago.

ALL SMILES: Cedric Burnside returned to performing live three months ago.

"People do things to you all the time that make you not want to love them," he says. "They make you want you to call them everything but the child of God.

"In the world today we need more love, and the way I see it, we have to implement it and that's why I wrote that song. I've been trying my best to implement more love. I think people need that, especially now."

Burnside was 10 shows through his 15-date Australian tour in March 2020, which included a stunning performance at Newcastle's Lizotte's, when the pandemic forced him to rush home to Mississippi.

Three months ago Burnside began playing live shows again as the COVID situation eased in the US through vaccinations. It's undoubtedly buoyed the bluesman.

"I'm just ready to make more music and watch people dance and smile," he says. "It makes me feel good."

Cedric Burnside's I Be Trying was released on Friday.

This story Cedric Burnside hunts raw emotion on I Be Trying first appeared on Newcastle Herald.