Pinetop Perkins
Down in Mississippi
HMG/HighTone 1004
"You better get HOLD of yourself," pianist Perkins proclaims in the middle of a new living-room version of his playful 1950s song, "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie." At 84, he doesn't communicate the same yearning sexiness he once did, but his left hand still walks with a swagger. Beware of listening to "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" while driving -- when he orders "STOP," any human foot is bound to reflexively slam on the brakes.

Perkins, who replaced Otis Spann in the Muddy Waters Band and stayed there for 11 years before going solo, doesn't attack the keys with youthful vigor anymore. Instead, he has enriched his tone; from the opening "Down in Mississippi" to Leroy Carr's yearning classic "How Long," Perkins communicates warmth and friendliness, not necessarily speed. He also sounds totally comfortable with his voice, shouting occasionally but rarely straying from his deep, avuncular slur.

Producer Matthew Block, recording the pianist at his South Side Chicago home the last two Octobers, ensures that Perkins feels totally relaxed. He's so laid back on Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" it sounds like he may fall asleep right there on the piano bench.

But don't be misled: Perkins is always in control. During a staccato solo in "I Almost Lost My Mind," he never takes the opportunity to rehash Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis cliches. Whenever it seems like he's about to zig, he zags, sliding his right hand to an unexpected key or starting the goofy "Big Fat Mama" with a slightly bent approach to the standard walking-blues bass. It's too bad Perkins rarely plays the clubs these days, but listening to him have fun at his house is almost as rewarding.

-- Steve Knopper

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Boulder, CO, USA.