Elder statesman of the blues piano, Willie "Pinetop" Perkins is approaching his 90th year, but aging has not slowed him down too much. Back on Top, his latest Telarc release, approaches perfection as a subtly smoking affair.
When a master of his caliber is in front, it really doesnít matter how many times youíve heard these familiar blues standards ó he imbues them with the burnished patina of experience. Perkinsí elegant touch graces the stately, slow-rolling opener, Earl Hookerís "Anna Lee," and he fires it up on the rollicking "Down in Mississippi" (not the J.B. Lenoir song), personalizing it with a vocal nod to his birthplace, Belzoni, Mississippi.
Throughout this set there is a remarkable sense of cohesiveness in the way the players converse musically. The subdued but dynamic semi-acoustic ensemble includes Sugar Ray Norciaís rich, quietly expressive harmonica, Mudcat Ward on stand-up bass, finessed drumming from Per Hanson and dual guitar from Denny Breau and Corey Harris.
Superior production values are notable in the warm but vivid clarity of this recording. "Kansas City," "How Long Blues," "Just a Little Bit" and a fistful of other comfortable blues vehicles all shine anew here in the hands of the pianist. He boogie-stops his way through his trademark "Pinetopís Boogie Woogie," which leads to a spirited "High Heel Sneakers."
The combination of soul, blues history, audio quality and musicianship on this outing places this among the very best of Pinetopís recordings.