Best known for his days spent with Muddy Waters, acclaimed pianist Pinetop Perkins is one of the last great Mississippi bluesmen but he has never become a major star. He has always been more comfortable backing up someone else and playing with friends. However, when it comes to blues piano, the frail almost 90 year old Perkins may easily be the heavyweight champ. Ironically, Pinetop's first instrument of choice was the guitar. After an arm injury he switched to the piano and the rest as they say was history for the native of Belzoni, Mississippi.
On his third Telarc release, Mr. Perkins joins forces with stellar Telarc studio men Denny Breau (acoustic/electric guitars), Michael Ward (acoustic bass) and Per Hanson (drums). The amazingly talented special guests include: Corey Harris (acoustic/steel/electric guitar) and Sugar Ray Norcia (harp) who add a special glow to the CD. Incredible as they are, they are given a restrained volume to allow Mr. Perkins to be forefront. The Randy Labbe produced disc is a collection of traditional blues with 54 solid minutes of signature boogie woogie piano. A total of 10 tracks are tackled by this true master including 4 originals.
At the time this was released, Pinetop was 86. Just listen to "Down In Mississippi" and you will hear him rumbling and rolling the keys with the energy of someone half his age. The song is about his home turf thus it is performed from the heart. "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" appears to be an open jam. Here, he improvises as only someone with a 70 year career can do. Quite simply, this one is a masterpiece. "Hi-Heel Sneakers" has been recorded by him before and is a staple of his live performance. It isn't rehashed here. Rather, it's given a larger-than-life sound thanks to the intimate acoustic treatment. With tight interplay amongst the musicians, the band sounds like they have been playing together for years on "How Long Blues". The original version of this song goes back to Pinetop's teen years! "Pinetop's Blues" is an instrumental that makes you realize you are listening to blues royalty.
Perkins doesn't dazzle with speed or frills, he just lays down deep and direct traditional blues with eloquence. Throughout, the lyrics roll out of his brittle voice as smoothly and easily as the notes come off his 88s. Back on top? I'm not sure he has been anywhere else!
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This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.