Review: Henry Butler – PiaNOLA Live
Posted on: Sunday, Sep 21, 2008
(Basin Street Records: BSR 0803-2)
Definitely an essential purchase for all piano buffs – New Orleans keyboard maestro Henry Butler is a master of all piano styles – from boogie-woogie to jazz and blues, following in the tradition of Crescent City masters as Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint and countless more.
Like many New Orleans musicians he suffered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, losing his home and many of its contents in the floods, but thankfully his tape archive survived, resulting in this album of live performances recorded over two decades – he now resides in Denver, Colorado.
To complete this package his co-producer, George Winston, has provided detailed track-by-track notes, complete with keys, and other technical information such as chords, which hand is playing what, etc. – fascinating stuff indeed!
The eleven tracks on offer range from jazz standards, such as the opening “Basin St. Blues”; soul classics – the timeless “(Sittin’ On) Dock Of The Day”, and the late, great Billy Preston’s funky “Will It Go ‘Round In Circles” – one of the album’s highlights for me.
The New Orleans ‘top brass’ are featured with Allen Toussaint’s “Mother-In-Law” and Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina” – although his long version is mostly improvisational, but features some tremendous, funk bass-style playing – definitely another stand-out track.
Butler, blind since birth, is quite a remarkable character – aside from his mastery of the piano, he is a keen photographer, who has had exhibitions of some of his work shown in New Orleans galleries.
Other standards featured are the classic ballad, “You Are My Sunshine” and the quite beautiful “Old Man River”, with a fine vocal performance – indeed, New Orleans legend, Dr. John, has likened Butler’s voice to Paul Robeson.