Monday, November 7, 2022

Robert Connely Farr - Shake It

Mississippi-born Robert Connelly Farr likes to keep it down, down, deeper and down.  Have a listen to the opening track on Shake It, a reading of Charley Patton’s ‘Screamin' And Hollerin' Blues’, and you’ll get the idea - screaming and hollering, ironically, ain’t what’s on the menu.  Warped, bent out of shape guitar chords drift into earshot like tumbleweed, while Farr moans pleas for the Lord to have mercy on his wicked soul.  It’s real slooow, and minimalist to boot, with drummer Jay Bundy Johnson and bassist Tom Hillifer making like Farr gave ‘em a sedative before hitting the Record button.
Robert Connely Farr tries to leave out more notes
Pic by Anita Van Weerden
It all adds up to a spooky sound that reflects the lessons in the Bentonia blues tradition Farr has learned from his mentor Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, whose ‘Going Away To Leave You’ is second up.  Here Hillifer’s bass is subterranean,  Farr’s guitar break is barbed-wire-spiky, and it has all the haste of a man hurrying to catch a train.  Tomorrow.
The less-is-more vibe is evident elsewhere too, with the pinpricks of guitar over another funereal beat on ‘Ain’t No Other Way’ prompting the thought that these guys may enter the studio asking themselves “How much can we leave out?”  The closing ‘Sugar Momma’ is just voice and bass at first, with Farr at times practically whispering the despairing refrain “Sugar momma won’t you please come back to me”, and adding smatterings of edgy, discordant guitar.  And along the way ‘Going Down South’ is also slowed to a crawl, with foot-dragging drums, a plaintive, strung-out vocal, and guitar that rings like a cracked bell.  It takes discipline to play this slowly and sparsely.
That off-kilter sound is present on ‘Knock On Wood’ too, with lagging brushes of drums and metronomic bass laying the foundations for Farr’s splintered shards of guitar and drawled vocal, before things get a bit more muscular and he adds a couple of often atonal guitar breaks that suggest he’s adopted the obscure ‘Open W-T-F Tuning’.
It’s not all eerie gloom.  ‘Miss My Baby’ is built around hypnotic grooving bass and a lazy snare drum, over which Farr intones some semi-spoken “blues rapping”.  His guitar doesn’t even arrive till nearly two minutes in, sounding fuzzy and wiry like he’s playing with a knackered amp, while the introduction of a shaker towards the close underscores the track’s rhythmic charm.  It may be super-simple, but it hits the spot in an easy-going way that evokes comparison with Steve Earle.  ‘Lefty’, meanwhile, is positively hyperactive by comparison with much of the album.  Drummer Jay Bundy Johnson was presumably delighted not to have to play with one hand tied behind his back on this one, and be able to crash a cymbal now and then, as they all rouse themselves to give it some welly as Farr delivers some stinging guitar.  And the title track ‘Shake It’ is an offbeat shuffle, with Hillifer given an extra allowance of notes on bass to help liven up the insistent groove, and there are echoes of early Black Keys as Farr knocks out some distorted, ringing guitar.
This sure ain’t party music, but Farr and friends counter the dark energy with just enough daylight to strike a satisfying balance, and at just under half an hour there’s no excess fat.  It may be rooted in old-fashioned blues, but Shake It is no dusty antique.  It's a modern day quiet storm.  
Shake It is out now, and you can buy it here.

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