R.L. Burnside's latest album, Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down, is a big improvement over his previous album, 1998's Come On In, an exercise in blues-fusion that was too much of the latter and precious little of the former. When a critic cites one or two songs that "are likely to please purists," you can be sure something's missing, and that was the case with Come On In.
The 11 songs on Wish suggest the power and emotion of his voice is more obvious than ever at age 73. The slide guitars evoke a dark night alone on a highway in the desolate region Burnside, who's from the hill country of northern Mississippi, calls home. But this is no 1930s Library of Congress field recording writ modern. It's heavily arranged for the most part, and the use of embellishments is judicious, unlike the "go for it all" style of its predecessor. All the rawness of Burnside comes through on the lively two-step "Miss Maybelle," the mandolin-driven "My Eyes Keep Me in Trouble," and the seductive reworking of Don Covay's "Chain of Fools." This is probably Burnside's best ever, and it at least stands next to other masterpieces of modern Mississippi blues.