Sunday, 19 October 2008

CD Review - James Booker

The Lost Paramount Tapes

By M.D. Spenser

These tapes may have been lost but thank God they were found. This is as entertaining a collection of New Orleans style Blues piano as you’ll ever hear.

James Booker was ebullient, drug-addicted, erratic and alcoholic. But he was in peak form when this 1973 set was recorded.

He’s supported by an all-star New Orleans band, some of whom backed Dr John, so you know there’s some funky stuff comin’ down. But Booker is the reason for these recordings.

At the forefront is his astonishing boogie-woogie keyboard – rhythmic, syncopated and danceable. His soulful singing is icing on the cake.

Here’s betting you’ve never heard ‘Goodnight Irene’ played like this, run through Booker’s funkified filter, with impassioned singing over a rolling piano. He plays ‘Feel So Bad’, made famous by Little Milton, with the treble notes tripping over each other in a waterfall of funkiness. In ‘Junco Partner’, Booker is every bit the equal of Dr. John on both vocals and piano.

Sometimes Booker lets his piano do the talking. His laid-back playing on the original instrumental, ‘Lah Tee Tah’, is so beautiful that, even at 5:43, you’re disappointed when it ends. Don’t put ‘African Gumbo’ on your iPod on public transport because you’ll make a spectacle of yourself. And Booker’s moody piano on Brownie McGhee’s ‘Hole in the Wall’ will bring joy to your heart.

Booker died of liver failure in 1983 at age 43. Nine years later, these tapes, missing almost 20 years, were found.

Hallelujah. This is genius.

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