Chris Cotton I Watched the Devil Die

Like an unlikely collision between Tom Waits and Robert Johnson, Chris Cotton melds old to new in a bewitching, 12-song disc that demonstrates more heart and sincerity than anything the blues world has spit up in some time. Born of a two-day jam session with Memphis and Clarksdale natives (including Big Jack Johnson on guitar and Adam Woodard on piano), ex-Blue Devils front man Cotton bristles with his boisterous approach to old blues styles as he skips through classics like Willie McTell’s loping "Dying Crapshooter’s Blues,” Mississippi John Hurt’s beautiful "Louis Collins” and a rousing version of Skip James’ "I’m So Glad” that reinvent each original. Yet it is his own works — the coolly calculated "Come On” and the exquisite title track that are truly eye-opening. Hamill Rott’s scorching fiddle work on the Mississippi Shieks’ "That’s It” is, alone, worth the price of admission. But it is Cotton’s mirthful approach to pre-War Piedmont blues that takes the cake and injects it with newfound life. Stand-out tracks (and be warned — there are many of them) include the deliciously slick and sloppy "Black Night” featuring Big Jack on salacious slide and the spry Woodward on piano. This is a record of the year, seven months early. (Yellow Dog)