Sometimes, an artist long in the tooth can come back and make a career-defining record. It seems to be a theme in roots music: in addition to the obvious example of Johnny Cash, there’s also Jeff Tweedy taking on Mavis Staples and even Marty Stuart working with Porter Wagoner. Sadly, sometimes there’s just another rockabilly musician knocking out cover versions of bigger hits than theirs.
Sonny Burgess is best known for his Sun Records’ cut, “Red Headed Woman,” and he’s been playing the retro roots festivals and clubs for the better part of six decades now. His 1996 self-titled album was a return to form, but Ain’t Got No Home isn’t a continuation of that high-toned rock ‘n’ roll. It has its moments, but it’s a rough go for most of its duration.
“Slow Down” is a great kick-off to the record, working in boogie-woogie and blues, with a fiddle flying in and out of the proceedings. It’s enthusiastic and fun, but ultimately hamstrung by what feels like a rote cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” which follows it. It’s unfortunately the way the record goes from front to back — for every fun track, there’s another which kills the mood and leaves the listener fatigued and ready to lift up the needle.
Granted, there are exceptions, like the opening “Slow Down,” the instrumental slow-dance swayer “Last Date,” and the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Tiger Rose” on the a-side. But again, for every great decision, there’s one which cancels it out. Despite making “Tiger Rose” a lean and mean rockabilly number, even tighter than the original ‘96 Rounder Records version, as soon as you flip the record over, you’re presented with the cleanest, most sanitized take on black popular music since Pat Boone did “Ain’t That A Shame.”
It only gets worse when one considers the countrypolitan backing vocals on Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” and the title track, originally by Clarence Henry. The latter track manages to sound like a bastard version of the Band’s version, paired with an elderly man doing karaoke. It’s painful.
Ain’t Got No Home is a weird record, because there are introductions to a few of the songs, starting with “Pretty Woman,” and sometimes it feels like they’re taken from a live performance, but the record appears to have been entirely recorded at the Raney Recording Studios in Drasco, Arkansas. That’s according to the Muddy Roots website, at least: the LP comes with absolutely nothing in the way of liner notes. I have no idea who played on this record, or really anything past what I was able to glean from Googling the hell out of it.
Given that “Pretty Woman,” “Okie From Muskogee,” and “Ain’t Got No Home” have intros and outros, plus crowd noises, maybe they’re live, or maybe it’s just a weird recording affectation. I really don’t know, and it’s kind of frustrating, especially as there’s more than one vocalist, and I’m never quite sure who exactly is taking the lead.
The recording is crisp and clean, and the pressing sounds really good, even if I never want to listen to most of these songs ever again. I feel like I’m kicking an old man laying on the ground at this point, but man, this record is just the pits.
There’s a typo on the tracklisting, too: Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia” is listed as “Caledonia.” It’s a shame, because the cover art is just perfect, and even the center labels on the LP look killer. But that back cover image — obviously blown up from a smaller image and suffering noticeable pixelation — and text just ruin the package. It’s honestly painful to look at.
There’s a download card.