With guest appearances from Robert Cray, John Mayer, and David Hidalgo, Eldred and his bandmates were able to flesh out the material and make his vision a reality. The collection as a whole is designed to tell a story by painting a picture of life in this rural delta town. In the process Eldred reminds us of our responsibility to our neighbors, and to the community.
The album kicks off with the tale of a manic misadventure triggered by a “Hundred Dollar Bill.” Driven by the rumbling rhythm laid down by John Bazz on bass and Jerry Angel on drums, and augmented by the furious harp of John Samora, the tune takes the listener on a ride-along with its seriously dysfunctional central character. By the end of the song it becomes clear that a hundred dollars won’t be enough to post this guy’s bail.
“Papa Legba” continues the heavy sound but at mid-tempo. The imagery is full of mystery and danger, whispers in the night, cock-fighting, funeral pyres and bloodshed. Legba sounds like some sort of Hoodoo man, and the narrator of the song is clearly afraid of him.
Tracks three and four are linked by the theme of running, and are clearly about Johnson. “Somebody’s Been Runnin’” is haunting, with a sense of foreboding. “You can’t hide from the dealings that you’ve done/ you can’t hide from the mess you’ve made/ time is up.” The devil has come to collect his due.
“Run Devil Run” comes from the point of view of a man who is fighting back, determined to send his spectral adversary packing. James Pennebaker provides a mandolin line that is beautiful and contrasts with the heavy thematic elements of the song.
“Bess” features a Tex-Mex-influenced arrangement underpinned by some fine drumming and a jaunty accordion provided by David Hidalgo, who adds back up vocals. The only misstep on the album is plodding cover of the Lennon-McCartney classic “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It is easy to see what Eldred is reaching for, using an upbeat number but with a heavy arrangement to highlight the plight of the poor in Baptist Town. Having such a well-known song in the mix of fine originals seems more of a distraction than an asset. But this is a small bone to pick, when the overall collection is this good.
The final track offers salvation to the listener, and features the Emmanuel Church Inspirational Choir along with some mighty fine organ playing courtesy Papa John DeFrancesco. The song is right on time and offers the providential deliverance we all need at some point or other. The further you can get from the crossroads, the better.