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A5

Classified: Remixed and Expanded

James Booker

Rounder 2013

Review by David Bowling

James Booker, 1939-1983, was black, gay, one-eyed, an addict, and one of the best pianists to ever walk this earth. He was the son of a Baptist minister and a citizen of New Orleans who absorbed its culture and musical heritage. Most of his career was spent in small clubs and smoke-filled dives but every once in a while he would venture into the studio to record his delta brand of rhythm & blues.

Classified was recorded in 1982, shortly before his death, and was one of only two studio albums released during his lifetime. It was re-released as a long out of print CD in 1992. It now returns as an expanded 22 track CD containing nine previously unreleased performances under the appropriate title, Classified: Remixed & Expanded.

Every so often he would venture outside his comfort zone and the light classical performances of “Madame X” and the previously unreleased “Warsaw Concerto” quickly show that he was adept  with just about any type of material.

As a vocalist he was a wailer who sang with a pure passion. “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” keeps the listener on the edge of his or her seat. Many of the tracks feature the saxophone of Alvin “Red” Taylor who provides a nice counter point to his piano runs. Throw in such interesting tracks as the jazz standard “Angel Eyes” and the virtuosity of the “Professor Longhair Medley” and you have an excellent overview of his career.

Booker was the kind of player who could squeeze every nuance from a song’s melody. He would return to a simple refrain over and over again before launching in a different direction and then returning to the original melody once again.

The sound has been scrubbed as clean as the technology of the day will allow, yet it retains some of the primitive nature of his work. The release also contains new liner notes and several archival photos.

Classified: Remixed & Expanded presents the last great release by a long-gone and many times forgotten master.

Rating: ****

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