The official credit tells it like it is. “Recorded in an old building in Ripley, Mississippi” – that’s all the info we get, and all that we need.When Cedric Burnside prepared to record Hill Country Love, the follow-up to his 2021 Grammy-winning album I Be Trying, he set up shop in a former legal office located in a row of structures in the seat of Tippah County, a town with 5,000 residents that’s known as the birthplace of the Hill Country Blues style.
“That building was actually going to be my juke joint. Everything was made out of wood, which made the sound resonate like a big wooden box,” said Burnside. He called up producer Luther Dickinson (co-founder of the acclaimed North Mississippi Allstars and the son of legendary Memphis producer/musician Jim Dickinson), who brought recording equipment into the empty space. “We recorded in the middle of a bunch of rubbish – wood everywhere and garbage cans,” Burnside says. “We just laid everything out the way and recorded the album right there.”The 14 songs on the record were finished in two days, but in addition to being satisfied with the sound, Burnside believes that Hill Country Love represents real creative progress. “Every time I write an album, it’s always different,” he says. “I’m always looking to express myself a little bit better than I did on the last one and talk about more things happen in my life. I think that every day that you’re able to open your eyes, life is gonna throw you something to write about and to talk about.
“So on this album,” he continues, “I’m a little bit more upfront and direct, because I went through some crazy feelings with family and with friends. Winning the Grammy was awesome, but people tend to treat you a little different when things like that happen.”Certainly, plenty of things have happened in Cedric Burnside’s life since he went on the road at age 13, drumming for his grandfather, the pioneering bluesman R.L. Burnside. His two albums before I Be Trying – 2015’s Descendants of Hill Country and 2018’s Benton County Relic – were both nominated for Grammys. He has also appeared in several films, including Tempted and Big Bad Love (both released in 2001) and the 2006 hit Black Snake Moan, and he played the title character in 2021’s Texas Red.
Burnside is a recipient of a National Heritage Fellowship, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts and was recently recognized with the 2024 Mississippi Governor’s Art Award for Excellence in Music. He has performed and recorded with such diverse musicians as Jimmy Buffett, Bobby Rush, and Widespread Panic.Yet as the title of the new album indicates, Burnside has never strayed far from the distinctive blues style introduced to the world by his “Big Daddy” R.L. and such other greats as Junior Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, and Otha Turner. “I’ve been traveling my whole life, and the song ‘Hill Country Love’ gave me a chance to let people know that I love what I do and give a sense of how we do it in Mississippi – like, the house party is a tradition here, Big Daddy threw a lot of them. So that’s what I was thinking about as I was writing that song – where I come from and also where I’m going, and how my journey has been to get to where I’m at now.”