Blues artist Cedric Burnside’s latest album, “Descendants of Hill Country,” was recently nominated for a Grammy Award. Photo courtesy Cedric Burnside
Blues artist Cedric Burnside was on his way to a gig in the Florida Keys when he got the call. It was his girlfriend and manager, Mona Ables, and she was crying.
"It made me scared. I was like, 'Man, what's going on?' But they were tears of joy, you know," the Holly Springs native says. "She told me we'd been nominated for best blues album of the year to win a Grammy."
When the Recording Academy announced the nominees on Dec. 7, 2015, Burnside's seventh album, "Descendants of Hill Country," made the short list. The album, which he released in February, is nominated alongside Buddy Guy's "Born to Play Guitar," Betty LaVette's "Worthy," Shemekia Copeland's "Outskirts of Love" and "Muddy Waters 100," a centennial tribute featuring artists such as John Primer, Gary Clark Jr. and Derek Trucks. The winner will be announced at the 58th Grammy Awards ceremony on Feb. 15.
Burnside attributes the attention that his album has received to new listeners discovering hill-country blues, the style of music that his grandfather, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough popularized in the early 1990s. However, the sound has been a staple of north Mississippi for many years. Burnside points to that history on tracks such as "Born with It" and "Down in the Delta," a song that his uncle, Garry Burnside, wrote about their family's past as sharecroppers.
"I've been hearing for years people asking for a more traditional style of music to come around. They've been hearing the same style of music for so long," Burnside says. "... I play hill-country blues. It just happened to be a very rare blues from north Mississippi that people didn't really know about or understand for a bunch of years. But for the last eight to 10 years, hill-country has finally started getting recognition. People are hearing more about it. I'm glad to be one that's giving it to them and glad they can relate to it."
Burnside enjoys all the various blues forms, from Texas to Chicago blues, and even sees some similarities between his stylistic heritage and Delta blues. But there's also something completely different in the hill-country style, he says, even in the unorthodox song structure, which is rooted in a more raw, dirty blues sound.
"It's hard to explain how the rhythm is because you don't have no eight bars or 12 bars, none of that," Burnside says. "It's all feel music, you know. Sometimes, cats might change on the one, or hold the one for three minutes. You never know. You just have to listen and hope that you catch it."
As thankful as he is—to God, to fans, and to his famous and influential grandfather—to be recognized for his music, Burnside says he wants to continue business as usual. For now, he plans to stick to his routine on the road, and within the next four to five months, he'll head back to the studio to record his eighth album.
"You know, it's great and everything, but I do it from my heart," Burnside says of the Grammy nomination. "I love to play my music, period, with or without the accolades, but I'm just glad people enjoy it and understand my music. And I'm going to keep on doing it, man. It's been a beautiful year."
The Cedric Burnside Project performs at 10 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 31, at Martin's Restaurant & Bar (214 S. State St., 601-354-9712) and at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 9, at The Iron Horse Grill (320 W. Pearl St., 601-398-0151). For more information, visit cedricburnside.net.