Blurry Eyes: Cedell Davis – The Horror of It All

All albums I listen to always take some time to “click”. For most it’s usually an extremely brief period, completed within the first track of an album. On occasion it may take three or four listens to fully sink in. Even rarer still, there are some albums that will take months before truly setting in. In the case of “The Horror of It All” it took damn near half a year before the right collection of events fell into place.

I woke up on a Sunday morning feeling out of place. My throat pulsed with agony every time I swallowed, my eyes were blurry, breathing erratic and thoughts muddled. However, I wasn’t so far gone that I could write the day off and hide in my filthy blankets until I levelled out, so into the tepid grey air I went. I wandered around aimlessly for a couple hours, skipping through songs until by a random impulse I put this album on.

All the previous times I had listened to this I never really fell in love. Something was always disconnected from the jagged guitar and laconic drawl, but on this day, with my head spinning and body in some form of turmoil, it drove right in and staked a butter knife through my heart.

Cedell Davis is a bluesman from the old guard who died last year. Born in 1926, this man had seen some shit over his 91 years on this rock. Aside from growing up in a depression and living through a world war, he was also struck with polio at a young age, loosing most control over his left hand and ragged remains in the rest of his body. Having just started learning guitar, he was committed to continuing and developed a style of slide playing using a butter knife clutched in his hand. Then, even after developing his musical career and garnering some success, he had both legs broken in a stampede cause by a police raid of a gig, resulting in his confinement to a wheelchair from 1957 onward.

The blues have always had some harsh stories in the background but damn man, that is a pretty shit run. These aren’t just such ‘n’ such blues, it’s a goddamn punishing crawl through life that gave his music an extremely distinct warp. As you also might have guessed, the butter-knife slide guitar style is scathingly unique due to the unequal pressure the handle of the knife puts on the strings. This gives his playing a very challenging and dissonant vibe, splintered and off-balance chords that reflect a man’s broken body but unbroken will.

This fragmented dissonance was one of the major reason this album took so long to take hold. These riffs are fucking bent man. It’s not like this is just out of tune wanking, more like everything is tuned to an alien ear and you need to adjust your thinking to suit. He has a complete mastery over his instrument yeah, but mastery more in the sense of tortuous domination than mutual technicality. Further driving the point home is the minimalist instrumentation present on very few of the tracks, at the most there’s a ragged kick drum getting stomped into the background but precious little else.

As someone who had only heard blues from the mainstream standards, this album was a revelation, an introduction to an underappreciated legend that fought through setbacks that would maim lesser men. Even if you listen to this album now and hate it, curse it as so much noise, I urge you to give it several chances, because when it hits just right, it hits deep.


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