A first listen to I Watched the Devil Die would suggest an old Delta blues recording from the 1930s. In fact, Chris Cotton is a young white guy from California emulating the blues greats, and bringing his own style to covers as well as some clever originals. Cotton formerly fronted the band The Blue Eyed Devils, which broke up in 2004. I Watched the Devil Die is his debut solo album, and was produced by Jimbo Mathus, the former Squirrel Nut Zippers frontman. The album was recorded with few overdubs, mostly on first takes.
Seven of the 12 songs on I Watched the Devil Die are Cotton originals. The album opens with Morgan City, Mississippi, sporting a Mystery Train-like riff, just like Elvis used to do. The title track, another Cotton original, is another rockabilly/blues number. I Watched the Devil Die also features songs by Skip James (I'm So Glad, made famous by Cream), and Blind Willie McTell (Dying Crapshooter's Blues).
The highlight of the album is the nine-minute slide-guitar jam Black Night featuring Big Jack Johnson. The remainder of the songs on the album slow down the formerly frenetic pace: Mississippi John Hurt's Louis Collins, a sparsely instrumented, finger-picked ballad, Blues for Big Bill, the traditional Bill Bailey", and Cotton's Goin' Back Home. This album closer is reminiscent of the last tune of a weary, bleary-eyed blues band at the end of a three-hour set at last call.
The sound quality of I Watched the Devil Die is rough, with Cotton's vocals recorded on a vintage RCA ribbon microphone. Although an annoyance to some, others will appreciate the authentic sound.
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