I've referenced Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend From Far Away on multiple occasions and tonight as I was listening to Jimmy Burns' "Leaving Here Walking" it occurred to me how well that describes my relationship to this song and record — and really describes a relationship between a listener and the blues about as well as anything I've ever read.
I received a copy of Live at B.L.U.E.S. when it was released a couple years ago and at that time I'd never heard of Burns and knew nothing about him. I popped the disc in my stereo and took to it quickly. I never got tired of it or burned out on it yet it would sit on the shelf — the physical CD rack and the virtual shelf that is my iPod — for months and months at a time without getting a listen. On many occasions, I've seen the CD or glanced at the name "Burns, Jimmy" while scrolling through the artists on my iPod and felt a twinge of wistfulness, thinking I really should stop and spend some time there but I was always on my way somewhere else or was just too damn busy.
Tonight I made the stop and the loving embrace of the music has warmed my ears and my spirit. It really does feel like an old friend and to borrow from Ms. Burnett, I am so glad we've had this time together.
Now before you tell me I need therapy or suggest that my iPod and I should get a room, let's talk about the song that inspired this sentimental journey. Burns imbues his music with that same kind of familiar comfort. He isn't trying to blaze a unique path through the land of the blues. Make comparisons all you want. What makes this song and this particular live performance special is his ability to be familiar without being derivative, which is part of what distinguishes Burns and other great bluesmen from the journeymen and the impostors. The foundation is sturdy and durable. It doesn't need to be reinvented or improved upon. The familiarity is a strength. It's an asset. It's a common language that unites listeners from diverse walks of life. The best blues is often created by artists who are able to communicate their understanding of the music's history while also sparking the music with a glimpse of themselves.
It really is an old friend from far away.