There's nothing wildly innovative about this music, but as they say, there's no need...
Jon Lusk 2008-07-25
This guy has to be one of the world's oldest working musicians. Born in 1913, Joe Willie Perkins has just celebrated his 95th birthday, having been nicknamed 'Pinetop' after a tune by Pinetop Smith that he used to play, err…some time ago. A master of blues and boogie woogie piano, Perkins is one of the very last surviving members of that seminal generation of Mississippi bluesmen who took their rural, acoustic music to Chicago in the first half of the twentieth century and made it electric in the second, thus creating
Pinetop Perkins & Friends revisits standards and a couple of originals from his lengthy career (although, like a number of his peers, Perkins took a long break from doing music for a living at one stage) with audibly affectionate contributions by colleagues from various connections through the years. Yes, there's a guest spot by Eric Clapton on the medley How Long
Blues/Come Back Baby, but to his credit, 'Slowhand' doesn't grandstand, simply working his trademark tasty-but-understated licks into a piece that's actually dominated by Nora Jean Brusco's gritty vocal. And there are plenty more noteworthy supporting musicians. Jimmy Vaughan's gnarled guitar work is
especially fine on Willie Dixon's evergreen Hoochie Coochie Man, and BB King trades vocal and instrumental licks almost conversationally with Perkins on the autobiographical boogie romp Down In Mississippi. There's a battery of four excellent drummers and Bill Willis' Hammond B-3 purrs and whirs
lasciviously through half the tracks.
Perkins himself sounds almost comically younger than he is, sliding skilfully between speech and song on the self-explanatory Sweet Home Chicago. His piano work is a delight throughout, drip-dropping deceptively loose flurries of notes and plonking chords all over the place to pleasantly
ramshackle effect, and sparring playfully with his guests. The all-pervading 12-bar format can make the blues sound formulaic and predictable, and it certainly pervades here, but the way these seasoned artists stretch out within the structure is where the interest lies. There's nothing wildly innovative about this music, but as they say, there's no need to fix something that ain't broke.