Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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James Booker

  • New Orleans Piano Wizard, Live! [Rounder, 1981] A-
  • Classified [Rounder, 1983] B+
  • Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah [Rounder, 1993] ***
  • Gonzo [RockBeat, 2014] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

New Orleans Piano Wizard, Live! [Rounder, 1981]
Booker's legendary prestidigitation put me off at first--this is the most ornate piano style ever to escape New Orleans, and I prefer my boogie sans soupcons of Chopin and Tatum. Eventually, though, his arpeggios, harmonies, and insidious timing create an irresistible roller coaster effect--I even started to groove with the dips and slides of his singing. Believe me, "On the Sunny Side of the Street" was never like this before and will never be the same again. A-

Classified [Rounder, 1983]
This is palpably more strident. The Longhair medley just isn't as sly and delicate as it should be, and in general there's too much reliance on the left hand, with the consequent loss of dynamic subtlety compounded by a klutzy drum mix. But except on his unintentional travesty of "King of the Road," Booker's forthright way with songs like "All Around the World" and "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and even "Hound Dog" has a barroom feel missing from the live disc. And the glorious schmaltz of "Swedish Rhapsody" was intended by an artist with a passion for camp. B+

Resurrection of the Bayou Maharajah [Rounder, 1993]
live fantasias and self-indulgences ("Medley: Slow Down/Bony Maronie/Knock on Wood/I Heard It Through the Grapevine/Classified," "Medley: Tico Tico/Papa Was a Rascal") ***

Gonzo [RockBeat, 2014]
Live in Germany, 1976--everything the virtuoso fonk-classical-cocktail piano man played for two shows, it looks like. I personally didn't want to hear even one "Please Send Me Someone to Love," and often the songs of hope and brotherly love deliquesce into mush, but there are loads of on-the-other-hands. The florid fanfare that evolves into "Sixty Minute Man" before your unsuspecting ears will possibly fool and definitely delight you twice, when it switches over to "You Talk Too Much" if not before. Booker likes him some medley effects--the one billed as "All by Myself/Let the Four Winds Blow" also includes a verse of "I'm in Love Again." "Tipitina" and "Junco Partner" and "Rockin' Pneumonia" are his by eminent domain, the Dr. John songs somehow not. "Tico Rico" and "Besame Mucho" make a fine pair. And let me mention the one about his mother called "Ora," because it convinces me that she's always worth mentioning. A-