Essential New Music: Paul Burch’s “Meridian Rising”


Like poor, sainted Billy Pilgrim, Paul Burch has come unstuck in time. He’s turned into Jimmie Rodgers—either that, or Rodgers (1897-1933) has turned into him— and in an eye-blinking moment of blissful impossibility, he’s reimagining Rodgers’ autobiography, from his birth in Mississippi to his death in a New York hotel room 35 years later.

It’s a crazy concept for an album, but it was a crazy life, too, rising from the railyards to become Depression-era America’s greatest celebrity, a yodeling, guitar-slinging country bluesman, doomed to die of TB at the height of his fame. For those six short years as a star, Rodgers did his damnedest not to slow down, so Burch gives us stories of Rodgers driving a Cadillac across the South, coughing his lungs out and falling in love with a woman in a circus sideshow. With help from Fats Kaplin, Tim O’Brien and William Tyler, he’s made Meridian Rising the perfect pseudo-period piece, one of the sweetest, oddest make-believe histories you’re ever likely to hear.

—Kenny Berkowitz