Pure New Orleans Genius
This gem of an album represents three previously unreleased “short sessions” by a trio of this city’s legendary artists: vocalist Cousin Joe (Pleasant Joseph), pianist/vocalist James Booker and guitarist/vocalist Snooks Eaglin. That statement itself should be enough to excite fans of these great musicians, who were captured at various venues spanning three decades. The sessions are topped off by all-star bands that back Cousin Joe and Eaglin—Booker plays and sings solo.
Cousin Joe, who is perhaps the least recognized of the three, offers some of his signature stylin’ and often displays his hilarious sense of humor on four cuts recorded in New Orleans in 1988. Check out the band with pianist Ed Frank, guitarist Justin Adams, bassist Frank Fields, drummer Frank Parker, tenor saxophonists Clarence Ford and Tim Green and alto saxist Andy Ridley. Wow. (More information on this singular artist can be found in his autobiography Cousin Joe: Blues from New Orleans.)
One of the aspects that makes James Booker’s segment, which was recorded in 1976 at a hotel in Amsterdam, special is that it feels and sounds so personal, so intimate. In just seven cuts, he musically tells the listener so much about himself and his virtuosity. He immediately moves from the straight-up “Booker’s Boogie” to Beethoven’s “Für Elise,” which transitions into “One Helluva Nerve,” complete with lyrics that have Beethoven—in Booker’s voice—finding fault with James’ version before offering him some advice. The title cut, “Blues Minuet (Rhapsody in Bronze)” has the free-flowing pianist transitioning genres again. As he does, Booker asks, “Hear New Orleans?” Yes we do.
Snooks Eaglin is up to his usual, wonderful trickery on his first selection, amazingly making his guitar picks sound like single notes on a piano. This session was recorded live in 1967 at Gloria’s Living Room on Spain Street in New Orleans with Bob French at the drums and Frank Fields on bass. Producer Tom Stagg, always a reliable source for solid music and information, writes extensively about the club in his liner notes. Snooks is in excellent voice on “Yesterday,” singing the familiar song with gentle tenderness. “I hope everybody feels like I feel,” he expresses at the tune’s conclusion. That’s followed by laughter from the lucky audience.
19 cuts of pure New Orleans genius—who could ask for anything more?