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JAMES BOOKER

CLASSIFIED - REMIXED AND EXPANDED

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Rounder (6191752)

Classified, If You're Lonely, Warsaw Concerto, Lawdy Miss Clawdy, All Around The World, Angel Eyes, Lonely Avenue, Professor Longhair Medley, King Of The Road, Hound Dog, Baby Face, Three Keys & more

Familiarity with the recorded works of James Booker won't prepare you for the treats included herein, as most of his recorded legacy (this album as originally released in the early 1980s included) presents him solely as a New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie pianist par excellence. While this was certainly true, his abilities in this area were only one element of his broader musical universe.

It may well be that, impressive though they often are, Booker's records rarely satisfied him because he was never fully comfortable in being pigeon-holed in this way. His  hectic, unpredictable and erratic lifestyle probably did not help much here either - Dr John famously once stated that he was ‘the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced' and the exemplary notes to this CD release concerning the recording sessions are an illumination of the difficulties he must have both faced and caused.

This re-issue thankfully (albeit belatedly) goes some way towards rectifying our appreciation of the sheer scope of his talents and interests. Much more than just a re-release of an earlier album plus bonus tracks tagged on, this is a wholly transformed project. Original session producer Scott Billingham's recent revisiting of the session tapes led him,  to his credit, to largely acknowledge his mistake in trying to construct the original album by focussing on the New Orleans R&B material and popular songs at the expense of other recorded pieces.

These other pieces took in classical, jazz, movie theme music and plenty more beyond categorisation. These are now presented for the first time in and amongst the 12 tracks that did make it to the original LP. While the original included moments of genius, the inclusion of novelty numbers like Baby Face and King Of The Road left the LP seeming unbalanced, patchy and slight. Their inclusion here seems more proportionate and as light relief amongst the more substantial fare included on an expanded 22-track album.

The album has also been improved by re-programming, with the eccentric but awesome title track now leading off the album to wonderful effect. The new edition is now beautifully balanced throughout - check out, for example, the boogie-woogie rolls on Lawdy Miss Clawdy sandwiched between the high-seriousness of the classical Warsaw Concerto and the fun-time rhythms of Medley - Tico Tico/Papa Was A Rascal/So Swell When You're Well. To me, this works superbly well now.

Booker often referred to himself as the ‘Chocolate Liberace' and this perhaps  reflected his desire to spread his musical wings. While most record companies were unwilling to sanction recordings that wilfully defied categorisation, we should be grateful to Rounder now so doing, albeit second time around. It may be too late for Booker himself to appreciate but we surely can.

Review Date: Febraury 2014

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