Skinny Williams / Erwin Helfer
St. James Infirmary
The Sirens (2003) 5006
14 tracks, 62 minutes.
by Craig Ruskey
Review date: September 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
A timeless quality is just one of many things that separates blues from other forms of music. Those with an understanding of the tradition and a deep respect for the pioneers play it the way it's supposed to be played, without gimmicks, effects, gadgets, or anything else that might interfere with the purity. Skinny Williams & Erwin Helfer have teamed up for a sensational trip back in time with St. James Infirmary and over the course of the set's fourteen tracks, there are many standouts. The title cut is a masterful exercise in simplicity and soul as Helfer's piano weaves intricately around Skinny's breathy tenor sax, and the duo takes you back to a Chicago speakeasy in
the 1920s as the roll sympathetically through Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out with a quality heard far too little today. Helfer's own Pooch Piddle is a classic waiting to be recognized with a solid left hand boogie while his right delivers a playful melody, and Williams blows at his best during See See Rider. For the closer, Back At The Chicken Shack, Helfer and
Williams deliver more stunning communication, proving their respect to the genre. Helfer's history dates back to playing and recording with Big Joe Williams, Jimmy Walker, and a great many others, while he cites boogie piano grandfathers like Jimmy Yancey, Cripple Clarence Lofton, and Albert Ammons as some of the key figures. Williams is no newcomer either having played with Jr. Wells, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy and he notes Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Gene Ammons as sources of inspiration. The classics covered here, These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You, It's
Only A Paper Moon, When You Wish Upon A Star, Stormy Weather, Ain't Misbehavin' and more stand proudly among the lowdown blues. The Sirens label has a great and growing catalog of piano blues and boogie featuring Barrelhouse Chuck, Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Detroit Junior, Erwin Helfer, and many more with some stellar compilations. Visit www.thesirensrecords.com for more information. Simply beautiful and highly recommended.
For those in the greater Chicago area, Skinny and Erwin will be at Katerina's (1920 W. Irving Park Rd.) on August 2nd celebrating the release of this superb CD.
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