Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush (Omnivore)
Reviewed by Scott Jordan, Fri., Dec. 18, 2015
A dynamic singer, harp player, and hustler whose show flashes equal parts Chitlin'-Circuit grit, Vegas flash, and winking burlesque, Bobby Rush remains one of the blues' greatest showmen. The Louisiana native first hit in mid-Sixties Chicago with Otis Rush knockoffs, but steered away from Chess Records production into Isley Brothers territory on 1969 nod "Let It All Hang Out." Drip in the slinky buttered R&B of Chicken Heads' title track and the mischief of regional radio hits like "Sue," and the first two discs on this 4-CD, 74-track comp spin like revelatory crate-dig finds. Rush evokes Billy Preston space-funk and some unexpected Huff/Gamble Philly soul collaborations in the Seventies, then moves back south to Mississippi, where the singer's Eighties/Nineties wordplay gets blunted by drum machines and a synth-heavy sound aimed at urban radio play. The last decade rights the ship, with crisper production alternating between shimmering acoustic tracks and modern grooves. Casual fans could subsist on a well-culled single disc, but blues aficionados won't regret going whole hog for the full Rush.