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Lee Pons - Big Boogie Voodoo

Mind Balm Records

10 tracks - Total time: 33:30

New Orleans-influenced blues and boogie pianist Lee Pons holds degrees in both piano performance and composition from Julliard, and has played music professionally from classical to heavy metal. Currently living in Tampa Bay, Florida, he won the Creative Loafing award in 2009 for Local Blues Artist of the Year, and was a semifinalist in the 2010 International Blues Challenge. Credentials like these show that Pons can play the piano, technically; Big Boogie Voodoo shows that he also can play it with all the soul needed to really play the blues. Moreover, Pons provides gruff, gravelly baritone vocals with multi-faceted emotional delivery that only add to the soulful piano mastery, rendering this CD of five vocals and five instrumentals short but sweet—compact, and thoroughly complete and satisfying in its only 33 minutes and 30 seconds of playing time.

All ten tracks are Lee Pons originals that stylistically run the gamut from traditional boogie through New Orleans- and Kansas City-flavored instrumentals, from Ray Charles-inflected gospel soul to tributes to the piano greats of the Crescent City. Pons is an accomplished artist who can both play and compose in the styles of Pete Johnson, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Ray Charles, and the classic boogie pianists, and moreover, do it in numbers that they themselves would be proud to perform and record. The Pete Johnson-Kansas City influence is felt in track 9’s instrumental, “BoogieRobics,” while the Professor Longhair feel comes through clearly in track 5’s up-tempo vocal lament over a woman who mistreats him, “Her Mind Is Gone.” “Dr. James,” track 2, is another vocal, a tribute to the seminal James Booker, while track 3, “Blues for Naw’lins” and track 7, “Me Minus You,” are pensive gospel-inflected soul vocals that follow Ray Charles, most notably in the approach he took to “Georgia On My Mind.” “Me Minus You” is a well-done blues staple of romantic loss, but “Blues for Naw’lins” is significant as an elegiac tribute to that renowned Louisiana city at the end of the Mississippi River, a reminiscence of both her pre-Katrina greatness touched by an expectant hope that, as the song’s last line puts it, “You’ll be back twice as strong.” “Buttend Boogie,” track 6, is a salacious rhumba celebration of a bootie-shakin’ mama on the dance floor, and of Pons’s wish to join her in shimmy shakin’.

Big Boogie Voodoo’s opening track, “The Voodoo Boogie,” and track 8, “Radiate the 88s,” are traditional boogie instrumental romps, while the last track, “I Did It,” applies the medium-tempo instrumental boogie specifically New Orleans-style. Track 4, “The Gospel According to Lee,” slows things down for a poignantly ruminative instrumental that combines both gospel and blues influences. The last three tracks are all instrumentals that move from fast-tempo to slower-tempos, and end the CD on an elegant piano-emphasizing note, as they range from “Radiate the 88s” through “BoogieRobics” to “I Did It.”

Lee Pons not only plays a number of different styles here, he plays them all well, and has his own particular flairs as well, especially in his ability to effectively utilize the very low end of the piano in this bass playing, and the very high notes in his treble playing, all the while continuing solid in the middle registers. Pons is a versatile and accomplished player indeed, with thoroughly a bluesy gravelly baritone voice that complements his piano with equally versatile and accomplished vocals. Big Boogie Voodoo rocks well besides, making this a CD both for listening and for dancing. Just what the masters intended.

The sleeve notes to Big Boogie Voodoo quote Pons as saying of his approach here, “Stripped down to just piano and vocals…every note has to count.” They do indeed.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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