There are records that appear as if gifted from the divine and then there are records that come forth when the dirt and dust of the road and the woods are brushed aside. Ticks, dewey leaves and all 1972's Bobby Charles is the latter. It's a mud on the boots, lazy-week-old beard and dog at foot kind of collection; the patient work of a man tucked away and laconic.
Born Cajun and bred Cajun Robert Charles Guidry appeared on this earth in early 1938. Teeth cut in R&B boogie bands, Charles née Guidry first hit big time with his classic “See You Later Alligator” and tip-toed on through the 50s and 60s putting out Louisiana groove on Chicago's Chess Records and Los Angeles's Imperial label with the occasional Jewel side.
Known as a songwriter, and a natural craftsman at that, Charles saw his work covered in various states of success by Fats Domino (“Walking In New Orleans) and Clarence “Frogman” Henry ("(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do" before decamping to Woodstock to join with fellow shit-kickers Rick Danko and Levon Helm and create his masterpiece.
Finding himself fleshed out with a dream session band (featuring the rhythm battery of the Band, Dr. John and Ben Keith amongst a murderers row of slingers) and nudged into a sonic companionship with the iconic John Simon, Charles confidently arranged and weaved deep grooves behind earthy, time-taking musings of the true observer. Bobby Charles stands not only amongst the singer-songwriter classics of the early 70s but also as a wobbly yet evolved emission of swampy blue eyed soul; a spiritual cousin of Doug Sahm's Doug Sahm and Band, Link Wray's polydor gems or perhaps more acutely Paul Siebel's unjustly forgotten Woodsmoke and Oranges.
In a story common with those releases, Bobby Charles saw great critical acclaim and miniscule sales.
A record seemingly destined to languish in old store dead stock, its availability amongst crate diggers a scant rumor, Bobby Charles was brought back into the light by the big ear'd Andy Cabic of Vetiver and his 2008 collection of covers A Thing of the Past. Cabic lovingly retouched the classic “I Must Be In A Good Place Now” as a bookend to an excellent collection.
In light of Vetiver's graces Bobby Charles found a fervent crew amongst the new weird America of the mid-late 2000s. Rhino records brought forth the first modern issue of the album, albeit only in the dreaded CD format. Feeling more of a halfass community service than a focused release, the Rhino edition satiated a thirst, while shining light on the gaping vacancy of Charles' legacy. Thankfully in 2014 Light in the Attic properly reissued Bobby Charles for a new generation of laconic wanderers, creating a beautiful edition in both sound and feel. Unfortunately Charles, who collapsed and died in his home in 2010, is no longer around to take his deserved victory lap.
Beyond all critical reappraisal Bobby Charles is simply a record of full of calm. In its grooves you can feel the sun on your shoulders, the buzz of the dragonfly and the burnt weed haze of a foggy morning. It's a record of its era: full of swamp, full of dirt, full of song.