Catfish Keith doesn’t just give concerts, he delivers what amounts to a masterclass in the very roots of American folk blues. A superbly talented guitarist with a big resonant voice, a battery of custom-built instruments and catalogue of songs drawn from the archives of the deepest Delta music and beyond, Catfish is an utterly thrilling performer. He arrives on stage, a force of nature underpinned by a solid academic knowledge of his subject and a fiery musical prowess that becomes almost shamanic at times.
At Forest Arts on Friday he held the crowd spellbound as he steamed through foot-stomping, string-bending, guitar-shaking interpretations of songs that have often been clawed back from dusty, scratchy old recordings and given a powerful new life. The playing was, as ever, exemplary and so was the sound
After more than 20 years of bringing his extraordinary act to the UK, this genial, quietly spoken American who plays like a man possessed is widely recognised as a world-class talent, a guitarist’s guitarist with a vitally important mission. His passion is to rediscover and celebrate the songs of the past and, together with his wife and manager Penny Cahill, that’s exactly what he does, touring the world, spreading the word.
The numbers getting an airing on his current international tour include many longtime Catfish favourites like Mississippi Fred McDowell’s Tell Everybody, Rev Gary Davis’s gospel classic You Got To Move and Jesse Mae Hemphill’s hypnotic Eagle Bird. There’s whole bunch of stuff from Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson, the Otis Brothers, R.L. Burnside, Johnny Shines…you name it. There’s plenty of humour too with gems like the joyously titled I’m Going Up North To Get My Hambone Boiled, Because If I Stay Too Long My Hambone’s Going To Spoil.
Most interesting though is the material from Keith’s phenomenal new album Honey Hole which shows him stepping up a gear. Hard to believe that he could get any better but, with a more intense focus on the quality of the sound, interpretation, character and nuance of the songs, I think that is exactly what he’s done. Find out more at catfishkeith.com