“The best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” An often ascribed quote from Dr. John, but there is no better way to succinctly capture The Bayou Maharajah, the Spider on the Keys, The Piano Prince of New Orleans, the Ivory Emperor, the Piano Pope, and the self-monikered Bronze Liberace. Many nicknames but there was only one James Booker.
This is one of my favorite albums. I’d qualify it as a transition album for me, musically and personally. As I started settling into Jazz, I found myself gravitating towards more New Orleans piano players. I also found myself maturing into adult life focusing less on the party and prioritizing my career. I think this is a pretty common path in our mid to latter 20’s as we’re trying to figure out who we are and our place in this world but it’s a very slippery slope. A slope that Booker could never really get full traction on. I’ll go more into his life in future album write-ups but this is the perfect album to get familiar with his genius. This is a very rare album in the States as it was cut and pressed in Germany. I imported it and almost melted down the wax from spinning it so much. Booker masterfully mixes Blues, Jazz and Classical stylings. It sounds like there are actually 2 players playing simultaneously because of what he is able to do with his left hand, setting up such complex rhythms while composing stunning melodies with his right. The album starts magically with Booker playing the great Allen Toussaint’s “Life” (made most famous by Dr. John on his In The Right Place). Booker then sucks you in on his own composition “One Helluva Nerve.” Booker is certainly not known for his voice. It’s discordant but still so gentle and playful. He can lull you into a trance and have you gyrating in your seat...all on the same track. This is clearly felt on “Slowly But Surely,” which sounds like a stomping Rachmaninoff piece. “Classified” may be Booker’s biggest “hit.” An upbeat track devised to hide what little opening he gives us into his troubled being. It’s beautiful. That painful insight continues on his wonderful version of “Please Send Me Someone to Love.”
Side 2 begins with what may be my favorite version of “Junko Partner” buttttt sadly contains a skip that I just cannot get out the groove. Imperfections. We all have them. You just cannot let them get the best of you!
Favorite Tracks: “Life” “One Helluva Nerve” “Slowly But Surely” “Junko Partner” “Classified” “Please Send Me Someone to Love”
Pressing: Original Pressing. Aves Germany. 69.031. One of my favorite album covers as well. 1977.