When Bobby Rush finally leaves the chitlin circuit, it'll most likely be because he outlasted it. When his core audience grows even grayer and fewer in numbers, this sturdy superstar of the old soul circuit will still breathe life into a bluesy R&B mix.
Such a scenario could be driving Rush's desire to reach out to a younger, roots-conscious, and whiter crowd with the all-acoustic set Raw. This isn't Rush's first unplugged CD. His potent 2004 offering, Folkfunk, swapped his typical show-band backdrop for a stripped-down, swampy, and echo-laced sound favored by Fat Possum devotees. That album showed scads of crossover potential. Raw, however, lacks that kind of punch.
Rush's move to old-time grooves — even ones as well played and sung as they are here — is sabotaged by less-than-riveting lyrics seemingly retrofitted for country blues. They sound more like Rush's usual urban fare suited up in bib overalls than any authentic embrace of tradition. Plus, self-penned songs like "Glad to Get You Back" and "Knockin' at Your Door" frequently come off as lightweight takeoffs on better-known blues tunes. As a pleasant, back-porch session, Raw fills the bill. But it probably won't snag the new audience Rush is courting.