Obviously, gutbucket has no expiration date. The living, huffing, audible proof resides in harpist James “Boo Boo” Davis, who turns 80 this November, and whose Boo Boo Boogaloo is just as perfectly squalid as was his debut, nearly 25 years ago.
Davis hails from Drew, Mississippi—the same town tied to Tommy Johnson, Pops Staples, and Willie Brown (of “Cross Road Blues” tell my friend boy Willie Brown fame). Those were the Delta days back then, at the turn of the 1960s, when a teenage Davis made the jukehouse rounds with the Lard Can Band, a family crew for which he drummed. Yet his reputation would come 400 miles due north from there. Not in Chicago, though. Instead, Davis set up shop in East St. Louis, right across the river from St. Louis. If you ever run into Boo Boo, be sure to ask about those 18 years as the weekend house band in Tabby’s Red Room, where he reportedly locked down the graveyard shift every Friday and Saturday, from 2 to 6 a.m.
More importantly, Davis picked up a harmonica there that he’s never put back down. And the city’s blues scene hasn’t been the same ever since.
Boo Boo Boogaloo was a one-day job. On Halloween 2022, no less. No fussing, no preening. Just like the hundreds of other hit-and-run gigs he’s had over the decades. Like those, this one also refrains from anything shiny like horns or glossy like backup singers. Some past recordings have tried fancying him up with gadgetry and fashionable slickness, which Blue Lotus, a St. Louis label with an eye for hometown grit, expressly avoided. Here, it’s all-natural grime. Nothing other than guitar (L.A. Jones), bass (Adrianna Marie), and drums (Chris Millar, who gravitates to hard-shells like Fillmore Slim and Jimmy Dawkins). And two nonchalant whiffs of Paul Niehaus IV’s keyboards.
The pace can be that of sludge. Just perfect for dragging the gutter with “I Got the Crying Blues” or “Hell Round Here,” since all that hesitation encourages getting all the more low-down. The grind then sets up “Boo Boo Boogaloo” to arrive like a flash flood. As with “Jungle Bump,” it, too, is a belly-shaker of a dance number to get corpuscles flowing. “At the Red Door” shuffles around the room, shaking sheets of notes out from behind his cupped hands, similar to those notes he later bends around “Blues on My Mind.” At times, a Sonny Boy II vibe gets snagged with the gnarled singing and downhome gusts. “Once a Year” gets high squeaks and the bottleneck for its Christmas spirit. “Make Everything Alright” turns the most soulful—worthy of a slow dance, in fact—in a sly ploy for, well, you know what. Yet, give Boo Boo the chance, and he’ll crumble up and compress his voice down into an oily, scratchy, rancid croak, just as did Wolf, to assure that gutbucket is here to stay.
Label: Blue Locus Records
Release Date: 4/24/2023
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski