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Pinetop Perkins - Heaven

Blind Pig Records

12 tracks – 44.45 minutes

When Pinetop Perkins died in 2011 all blues fans felt a mixture of sadness at his passing, tinged with joy that he had led such a full and colorful life. We had no expectation that we might hear his piano and voice again, but Blind Pig have dug into their archives and discovered a previously unissued NYC session from 1986. Here we have Pinetop at just 73 years young, mostly solo but on four cuts he is joined by Brad Vickers on bass and Pete DeCoste on drums; on one of those four tracks Tony O adds guitar and Mike Markowitz harmonica. Two additional vocal tracks were recorded in 2011 featuring Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith (on possibly his last recordings) and Otis Clay.

On this session Pinetop mixes some of his original compositions with classic blues and a couple of standards. The album opens with “44 Blues” with which Roosevelt Sykes had a hit as early as 1929; who knows, maybe Pinetop heard that record when he was growing up! His version is classic barrelhouse with lots of rolling left hand notes. Pinetop’s own “4 O’Clock In The Morning” is a slower piece in which you can really hear his piano skills. John Nicholas’ “Relaxin’” is exactly that, a solo piano instrumental, medium-paced with a catchy refrain.

Howling Wolf’s “Sitting On Top Of The World” is the song on which Willie Smith sings. It is eerie to hear two of our recently lost bluesmen combining on this performance as we know that they were never together for it. However, you would never realize that from this seamless recording: Willie’s voice fits like a glove with Pinetop’s playing, not surprising if you have heard their Grammy winning Joined At The Hip. (Editor's Note - Joined At the Hip also won the 2012 Blues Blast Music Awards for Best Traditional Album)

Pinetop’s own “Just Keep On Drinking” is the first band performance, the addition of bass and drums supporting the beat without reducing the importance of Pinetop’s piano. It’s a jaunty piece that gets the toes tapping with an amusing lyric about using alcohol as a way of forgetting hard times. “Since I Fell For You” has been sung by countless singers but Otis Clay does a great job, using the deep gospel tone of his voice to convey the desperation of the lyrics. Pinetop returns to solo mode with “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”, a sprightly boogie with Pinetop delivering the instructions in a fast-speaking style. His own “Ida B” is the track with added guitar and harp, the longest cut on the CD at just over five minutes. It’s a slow blues in which the harp is up front from the start, the guitar in supporting role.

Three solo pieces follow, starting with “Sweet Home Chicago”. A song often covered badly, this is how it should sound, Pinetop’s vocal sounding cheerful about that possible return to the Windy City. “Pinetop’s Blues” is a slow, melancholy tune with Pinetop’s left hand playing mournful chords before his voice enters to recount a classic blues tale of waking up to the dawn without anyone “to hold my aching head”. “Willow Weep For Me” is another of those standards that have been played by many jazz artists and Pinetop’s interpretation is excellent, again demonstrating what a fine pianist he was. The CD concludes with a final band outing on Jimmy Rogers’ classic “That’s All Right”, Pinetop’s voice capturing the essence of the familiar lyrics and his right hand flourishes more than adequately replacing the more usual guitar and/or harp on many versions of the song.

Putting aside the obvious question of why these tracks have never been issued before, let’s celebrate the fact that Blind Pig found them so that we can all enjoy a little more Pinetop! The only question is whether there are any more in the archives somewhere…

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.

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