James Booker: The Lost Paramount Tapes
Lost for decades and now recovered for all to behold, this captivating archival treasure provides a glimpse into the complex New Orleans piano legend arguably at the height of his powers, riding a late-night zenith with a locked-in band. This release drops the listener in on a nocturnal jam session led by James Booker, running through an almost entirely non-overdubbed set with players from Dr. John’s band in a Hollywood studio after hours in 1973. The only drawback is the brevity—the 45 minutes of dazzling blues, jazz and R&B with little regard for the traditional strictures of songwriting, studio recording or musical composition will leave the listener begging for more. Bursting with barroom brawn and a freewheeling vibe, the lightning-in-a-bottle effect is immediately palpable from the opening notes of the swampy boogiewoogie stomper “Goodnight Irene,” a classic Lead Belly tune given the full deep-fried swamp treatment. Pulsing blues grooves keep this recording flying high throughout this spitfire boogie session. “Feel So Bad” contains the most madcap, signature playing—each member of the all-star band gets a chance to shine in the spotlight at several points during the set. As raw talent, there are few, if any, who could play with the ferocity of Booker. (See the oft-covered “Junco Partner.”) More or less a live album (without an audience), The Lost Paramount Tapes has a grainy feel and unpolished quality that makes the listener a fly for what feels legendary in hindsight, but was likely just another night for the outlandish “Black Liberace” to exude his virtuosic prowess. The piano rolls are borderline tactile on this tape. As essential to the Crescent City’s musical fabric as his peers Dr. John or Professor Longhair before him, this 11-track document is instantly essential, and fans of New Orleans music and Booker are abundantly lucky that it’s finally seeing the light of day.