James Booker CLASSIFIED
Just before the 30th anniversary of his death, James Booker, a brilliant New Orleans pianist and legendary character, has been brought forward into renewed attention by this week’s New Orleans Film Festival screening of a new documentary film about him and the re-release of his 1983 album, “Classified.”
The album, expanded with unreleased tracks, presents a rich overview of Booker’s prodigious gifts. He started piano study about the same time he learned to read. That’s the age when most world-class virtuosos begin. Booker’s early training shows but, beyond that, he’s simply a natural genius at the keyboard.
Booker’s playing is effortlessly fluent and inventive. His classical training shows up in Romantic, Chopin-esque ruminations (“Madame X”). And he obviously studied the eccentric pianistic intricacies of New Orleans’ piano maestro Professor Longhair (“Medley: Tipitina/Bald Head”).
A master of every style he turned his attention to, Booker sings and swings through Roger Miller’s country classic, “King of the Road.” He plays a dark and nuanced rendition of the theme from “The Godfather.” He applies his reedy tenor voice and gospel passion to “If You’re Lonely.”
Booker’s instrumental virtuosity will always elude most people. But for more demanding listeners who do appreciate dazzling technique and imagination that soars beyond the mainstream, he is unparalleled.
Pearl Jam LIGHTNING BOLT
Pearl Jam’s “Lightning Bolt” is a rock jukebox set to shuffle.
The Seattle survivors’ 10th studio album is erratically paced and skips from punk rock attacks to power ballads to AOR offerings in a schizophrenic playlist. Recorded over two years with longtime collaborator Brendan O’Brien and with four songwriters writing independently, it’s no surprise the LP often feels like a compilation album rather than a fully realized collection.
Like its 2009 predecessor “Backspacer,” “Lightning Bolt” kicks off with three stadium-leveling belters. The solid “Getaway” is piggybacked by furiously kinetic first single “Mind Your Manners” — a close cousin to the band’s 1994 track “Spin the Black Circle” — and accusatory scream-a-long “My Father’s Son.”
Then comes “Sirens,” a slow-burning torch song built around the importance of love in the face of mortality. This is the most unashamedly sentimental song the band has ever released and stands to become a first dance fixture at weddings across the globe. Equally surprising is state-of-the-nation address “Infallible,” which somehow manages to ape both the keyboard line from The Dead Weather’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and the melodic line from Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”.
Elsewhere, there’s the Eddie Vedder-penned title track and “Swallowed Whole” — two enjoyable, mid-tempo rockers about the majesty of nature — and the ethereal “Pendulum”, which marries echo-laden, snaking guitar work and a whispered, conspiratorial vocal to stunning effect.
Sadly, “Lightning Bolt” loses its spark during its closing quartet, including hackneyed stomper “Let The Records Play” (lyrics include, “With the volume up, he goes and fills his cup and lets the drummer’s drum take away the pain”) and ballads “Sleeping By Myself,” “Yellow Moon” and “Future Days” — tracks that will provide plenty of opportunities for fans to trek to the bar at their upcoming gigs.
Pearl Jam’s recent albums have started with a bang, but ended with a whimper and “Lightning Bolt” is no exception. As Vedder intones on “Getaway,” “Sometimes you find yourself being told to change your ways — there’s no way.”
The Associated Press