Otis Rush – Ain’t Enough Comin’ In audio cassette (1994)

Ohhhh yeaaahhhh…. This. Is. The stuff. In 1994, an Otis Rush studio album release was a completely new experience to an entire generation. Not since the 1970s had Rush bestowed a non-live album upon the world, and whilst I’d heard his name before, it was the UK publicity which went with this release, in spring ’94, that alerted me to his capabilities. The early 1990s had seen an explosion of traditional American blues, and whilst this product from Otis Rush could have done with being recorded and released two or three years earlier (for its own commercial sake more than anything), it was most welcome, and it’s remained a very important release within the blues genre.

Otis Rush - Ain't Enough Comin' In audio cassette (1994)

Ain’t Enough Comin’ In is a traditional blues album with a highly distinctive and thoroughly authentic sound. If you haven’t heard Otis Rush before, one listen will be enough to get you wondering why on earth you haven’t. Rush, in my opinion, is one of the most under-mentioned and under-celebrated true blues greats. He may not have had the widely known tracks of some other artists, but as a musician his contribution is very difficult to beat.

His immense talent as a singer has, over the years, easily equalled, if not surpassed that of the universally-acknowledged greats – in any style, full stop. As a guitarist, Rush is an archetypal blues lead player. No gimmicks. No fancy effects. Just the almost inexplicable expressiveness and personality of a classic 1950s-style electric guitar – doing what its manufacturers designed it for. On this album, it’s an American Standard Fender Stratocaster with a stinging and edgy attack. A sound only a human being with a real guitar could make. No computer is gonna replace this. Not in my lifetime, anyway, I’m convinced.

One of the things that strikes me about Otis Rush, in musician’s terms, is that the vibrato in his guitar breaks is exactly the same as the vibrato in his voice. Smooth, even, and very deep and wide. I think that’s significant, because it essentially says he’s been totally deliberate about the nuances of his singing and playing. Vibrato characteristics are accidental for some musicians, but that’s not the case here I’m sure. This is the sound that was in Otis Rush’s head, brought to life through what must surely have been some pretty obsessive attention to detail.

Another important feature of this type of blues guitar is the micro-tuning of the string bends. These real, authentic players always used deliberate skewing when bending strings. The guitar’s perfectly in tune, but the strings are pulled and stretched into very precise misalignments which create the essence of the best old Chicago blues. It takes a hell of a lot of control and discipline for a guitarist to subvert the tuning in that way, but it’s incredibly effective. The technique moves away from the Western classical theory of there being just twelve notes in the scale, and broadens out the concept of musical pitch into something almost infinite.

In truth, there aren’t many massively memorable songs on this album. Homework is an obvious exception. But blues is pretty rigid in structure anyway, and for many decades it’s been next to impossible to write something completely new and highly memorable without straying from that strict formula. I think in the blues genre it had pretty much all been done before Eric Clapton ever reared his head. Hendrix took blues through its final stage of development, and since then it’s really just been about the authenticity – recapturing or maintaining the style. But make no mistake: this album is the style. It’s not a copy or a tribute. It’s the real thing.