Thursday, 8 November 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 100 Resurrection of Bayou Maharajah

Top 102 Albums. No 100
Resurrection of Bayou Maharajah - James Booker

I'm not doing this in any sort of order, just picking whatever album jumps form the list when I sit down to blog. And few albums jump like this!

I first came across James Booker through a combination of The Clash and, I think, Jools Holland. Anyway, I remember hearing him perform Junco Partner and I recognised the song from The Clash's pick 'n' mix masterpiece Sandinista. The name stuck and I would always listen when I heard his name, and when you listen, you're hooked.

There is something in Booker's playing that I can only call, for want of anything better, transcendence. If he did nothing else other than tinkle the ivories he would be one of the greats but he also has a voice which yearns for the transcendence which he clearly sought for in areas of life other than at the keyboard. His is a classic tale of talent brought low by appetite; perhaps the sensibility that made him such a great artist also made him unable to live easily in his skin.

A case can be made for him as the greatest pianist among the many great New Orleans pianists but that means little. What means a lot is that this record, released after his death and made up of live recordings from his residency at The Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans shows a man who was shook but could still shake. He could shake the voodoo or out chop Chopin, his gift with those black 'n' white keys seems to have been limitless.

When Van sings "and he stoned me just like Jelly Roll" its James Booker that comes to my mind. Here is the medley that opens the album:

For a second taster here's one of my favourite songs, and I haven't heard anyone do it better. And I've heard a lot of people do it, and some of the very best.

I went down to St James Infirmary
I heard my baby cry
I was so broken hearted
She was was gone somewhere in the bye and bye
I tried so hard to keep from crying


  1. Great touch and intensity; makes Jools pale in comparison...
    Talking of transcendence; there's a bit of Van's 'speaking in tongues' in Booker's vocals...

    1. Van liked his New Orleans! I guess a lot of it comes from Jelly Roll!

  2. My pater taught me well in the ways of Mr Morton's Barrelhouse Blues.
    Did you know that his moniker 'Jelly Roll' is slang for a fanny?
    Seems he was 'the bollocks' with plenty of front; claiming to have invented Jazz.
    "When my grandmother found out that I was playing jazz in one of the sporting houses in the District, she told me that I had disgraced the family and forbade me to live at the house... She told me that devil music would surely bring about my downfall, but I just couldn't put it behind me."

    1. And of course the word Jazz may come directly from the Gaelic word teas, meaning passion/heat. Makes Louis Armstrongs Irish Black Bottom all the more apt.