By Sean Jewell
What began as an obsession with Mississippi Hill Country blues has become a burgeoning blues orchestra at the vanguard of a new American roots music. Raised in the Swannanoa valley of Western North Carolina, multi-instrumentalist Reed Turchi is a producer, label head, band leader and solo artist. He's also a master of guitar driven blues that shapeshift seamlessly between acoustic slide, electric juke joint boogie, and the improvisational, groove-driven, massive sound of his Nashville based Kudzu Orkestra. His latest albums Tallahatchie, and Live At Soulshine evince his ability to play elemental blues solo, and to lead entire improvisational orchestras on the very same theme.
He's been lauded by Greg Vandy of KEXP as "a familiar reality in this time of cultural and political uncertainty" and praised by American Standard Time as "The sound of a new American music". Reed has been featured in Rolling Stone, American Songwriter, Oxford American, and Fretboard Journal.
He's been the leader out in front of southern rock three-piece Turchi, and post-everything band The Caterwauls. As founder of Devil Down Records he produced solo records by Junior Kimbrough's bassist Little Joe Ayers and RL Burnside’s longtime guitarist Kenny Brown. His work with premier Italian guitarist Adriano Viterbini resulted in the first post-Turchi, cross-Atlantic album Scrapyard. Viterbini would later contribute to his next project Reed Turchi and The Caterwauls Speaking In Shadows featuring the brilliant piano work of Heather Moulder and luminary lead guitar of Joey Fletcher. Speaking In Shadows was just one of the results of Turchi's work as label head at the famed Ardent Studios in Memphis. A virtually defunct Ardent sought reinvention and found Reed, who was working with renowned folklorist Bill Ferris as an undergrad at UNC Chapel Hill, editing Ferris’s recordings of Mississippi Fred McDowell, and releasing them on Devil Down. He eventually departed Ardent to tour nationally with The Caterwauls, but the tour ended with walls coming up all around him. The band broke up, his booking agent disappeared, he was ill personally, and worse: his grandmother was dying.
While visiting at her bedside his grandmother requested he play music, and he noticed that many of his songs just didn't lend themselves to playing solo. After her death he sought a return to his own roots. He locked himself in a room and recorded Tallahatchie over three days on a portable recorder in a house he'd "had a one-year lease on and spent twenty days at" in Murfreesboro, TN. It's a powerful record on which Reed explores the work of RL Burnside, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Charley Patton "in an attempt just to get back to music I love, without all the musical-heartbreak that was closing in on me." The result is a music imbued with the inescapable cloud of despair that causes men to turn inwards. It is the blues.
After a cathartic national solo tour, Reed settled in Nashville, where he recorded his latest album. For this largely experimental, "100% improvised" effort Reed gathered a crew of musicians to re-visit his work. Chasing the "slide and saxophone vibe" of old King Curtis / Duane Allman recordings, Live At Soulshine adds an orchestra to the songs of the hill country and plays them as they were intended –in a juke joint, without limits. When you hear Art Edmaiston's saxophone work, synth keys, and harmony vocals blending seamlessly over Reed's interpretations of hill country riffs, you hear the sound of something old becoming new again. As Reed says "the level of play is high, the energy is fresh, and the canvas is blank."
But Turchi's "Kudzu Orkestra" is more than an album. It's already been performed live dozens of times in varying configurations. The antithesis of the Nashville singer-songwriter model, it instead groups trusted players together in search of a groove; Reed's model is "No super-solos, no stepping on toes, no egos". The forward thinking, futuristic blues is an album, sure, but it's also becoming a movement to educate, inspire, and illuminate –as all of Reed's work seems to do.
Reed is as much a preservationist as he is an iconoclast. The guy who once went to Holly Springs to turn field recorders on Kenny Brown and Little Joe Ayers wound up sleeping in flooded tents, digging drainage ditches for beagle runs, and falling off of horses, but was eventually was able to sit, talk to, play with, and record with these legendary, reclusive musicians. He has now turned the field recorder on himself, and his years of participation and creation throughout the South mean that he can gather an ensemble and record an astounding album at a moments notice thanks to the spirit of the musicians around him. The future of the blues looks a lot like the past. Whether playing alone or surrounded by a band Reed finds a way to get everyone involved. Certain players still hold everyone else in their gravity, and pull everyone around them into a groove.
"Turchi proves to be an old soul...we feel like we are sitting right there in some lonely cabin deep amongst the pines and the kudzu sipping whiskey and listening to him play his heart out." -- Neil Ferguson, Glide Magazine
"Acoustic gritty blues tunes full of emotion." -- Daytrotter
“(Tallahatchie) strips it bare to an honest bone - just man and guitar. You know the songs, and the meditative simplicity is just what we need to grasp something we think we know; a familiar reality in this time of cultural and political uncertainty. – Greg Vandy, KEXP
“Tallahatchie certainly has that inward-looking contemplative mood about it. The record has a "Robert Johnson in a boarding-house with a guitar, a mic and a recording machine" ambiance." -- Bill Kopp, Asheville Mountain XPress
"Turchi returns to his roots, and effects a brilliant strategy. DeStijl in design, the album is a work of minimalism...Turchi’s great talent for absorbing, interpreting, and continuing the talents of Sonny Boy Williamson, and Mississippi Fred McDowell (“Write Me A Few Lines”), and even Charley Patton (“Mississippi Boll Weevil”) make this album a relaxing, raw, cathartic respite, free from the conformity of a full band." -- Sean Jewell, American Standard Time
"...delivered by Turchi's voice and his slide guitar with the class and the charisma of a perfect Blues Troubadour. Tallahatchie is an album that goes beyond the pure and simple love for the traditions of the Hill Country Blues. It's the most sincere labour of love possible of a musician that has never forgotten where his musical heart belongs to and always will." - Gio Pilato, Bluebird Reviews
"Here are dark, plunging canyons of natural reverb, resounding and haunting rail-sounds, sky-punching stops, vocals rattling like winter trees. On each song of Tallahatchie Reed Turchi plays and sings in full command – and in fullness of humility – among the blues storytellers whose music he has absorbed down to his marrow: Fred McDowell, North Mississippi Allstars, Furry Lewis, Elmore James, Mississippi John Hurt. His guitar and voice are saturated with that kerosene. He has made new fire. May it spread wide and far." - Kevin McIlvoy
"Tallahatchie is a brilliant new selection of recordings by Reed Turchi. Inspired by his mentors, North Mississippi performers RL Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Otha Turner, Turchi creates an intimate homage to their music. His clean, sweet sounds of acoustic blues resonate with the heart and introduce an exciting new chapter in his impressive musical career." - William Ferris
“This is why they call it the dirty south.” - American Songwriter
“If Beck, Steve Earle, and T-Rex got together for a jam.” - Maximum Volume Music
“Vital, live, and essential.” Living Blues Magazine
"Beyond traditional genre constraints…a sound that is pushing the boundaries of Hill Country tradition." - The Oxford American
"...like ZZ Top fuzz choked out by weeds, Dr. John-like hoodoo vocals over a swampy, psychedelic guitar." -Indy Weekly
"Beyond traditional genre constraints…reaching for a sound that is pushing the boundaries of Hill Country tradition." - The Oxford American
"TURCHI claims new ground for Southern rock and roll music." Country Fried Rock
"Turchi and Viterbini two have a minimalist, dark blues chemistry overflowing with earthy delta slide and dark pulsing electric guitar. No rhythm section adds to the tracks' late-night jam session feel, seemingly leaving them locked in conversation with no one else to listen or judge." - iTunes Editors
"Jumping in to Turchi is akin to ordering a pint at local bar deep in the Appalachia. It sounds like it’s made to be played in a dimly lit dancehall, and its guitar grooves and bass boogies make swinging along to the beat inevitable." Daily Tar Heel
"It commences with a prescient snare-drum rat-a-tat-tat, B-3 organ hum and bent-string licks that’ll warm the cockles of your Crescent City-lovin’ heart; it closes in a riotous orgy of distorted/phased gutbucket boogie, the likes of which fans of JJ Grey & Mofro and the North Mississippi Allstars savor and would even kill for. Turchi’s brand o’ roots ‘n’ blooze will make you a believer in the power of a higher spirit, or at least the power of hi-octane mountain moonshine. From the sound ofCan’t Bury Your Past the Turchi crew is fully ready to ascend the throne. It’s as rocking a set as any collection of Southern-fried stomp ‘n’ twang you’ll hear all year, yet there’s also an elusive element of cerebral sensuality that informs these ten tracks, and that collision of the primal and profound serves to give the material an uncommon emotional heft." Blurt Magazine
“Vital, live, and essential.” Living Blues Magazine
"...like ZZ Top fuzz choked out by weeds, though a few lysergic licks leach through...Dr. John-like hoodoo vocals over a swampy, psychedelic guitar lifted from Tony Joe White's back pages. "The record rolls like the Mississippi hills, but Turchi—born wanderers who travel to the Triangle so often they seem more local than regional—embraces multiple Deep South strains." -Indy Weekly
"In Scrapyard Turchi and Viterbini create plots of notes that are a solitary journey on straight roads and dusty with the thoughts that wander up to dissolve, giving way to ecstatic contemplation. Minimal arpeggios and slightly distorted slide guitar open the imagination of the listener who is carried away by the taste for composition but also by the instinct of the two artists who alternate entirely instrumental to songs with other masterfully interpreted by the voice of Turchi." - MusicFeed Italy
"Kudzu boogie is the shorthand the western North Carolina band Turchi uses to describe its bristling fusion of hard Mississippi Hill Country blues, southern rock, southern fried boogie and pungent Memphis soul...Reed Turchi is a fiery guitarist who especially likes to lace the tunes with slithering slide and a raspy vocalist who doesn't so much sing as use his growly drawl to pepper the tunes with hellfire tales of loneliness, obsession and retribution." Minneapolis City Pages
"TURCHI play a style of rock & blues that harken Beggars Banquet era Stones coupled together with the veiled introspection of Kurt Vile. Reed Turchi’s conversational lyrics and expressive guitar paint scenes of despair wrapped in hope." Visions of the Unexcused
"This is why they call it the dirty South." American Songwriter
"TURCHI’s mindset and loose, fall-off-the-bone guitar grooves spiritually trace to somewhere down in the land of Burnside, Kimbrough, and Kenny Brown…these juke-joint-jammers always keep it murky and muddy while recounting doing it in the dirt, imparting violence, pondering death, and then doing it in the dirt some more." -Bluesrag Magazine
"TURCHI cook up a swampy gumbo of blues and Memphis soul, highlighted by killer slide-guitar grooves." Bucket Full of Nails
Twangy rockers Turchi are a band from which you’ll undoubtedly be hearing a lot more in the future, but right now their present is pretty fucking rocking. Their new album Can’t Bury Your Past is so full of swagger and fun, it’s nearly impossible not to dance when you hear it. The slide guitar likely leaves smoke in its wake, and the scratchy, bluesy vocals are gritty and dirty like a well worn pair of work boots. This is a true low country sound created by a band so confident in their voice, they make their complex playing seem easy. The Horn, Austin TX
"With Cameron Weeks on drums and Andrew Hamlet on bass, TURCHI delivers primal slide runs and fuzzy garage licks that propel dirty backwater grooves. On top, Reed often talk-sings with a sandpaper throat that sounds like a vocal spawn of Lucero's Ben Nichols and underground blues hero R.L. Burnside." Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine