P.O. Box 2877
Waterville, ME 04901
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by David Schultz
When you think of mastery of the blues piano, Pinetop Perkins probably tops most people's list. For someone who has been making a living playing the blues since 1926, backing such greats as Sonny Boy Williamson, Earl Hooker, BB King, and Muddy Waters, only in the 1990s has Pinetop been a headliner in his own right. His first album for Deluge Records in 1992 was On Top. In 1995, Deluge released Live Top, a concert recorded at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine in October 1994. The liner notes state that this recording is one entire set "from start to finish." This CD serves either as a good introduction to Pinetop and blues piano or as a document of his 1994 tour with the Blue Flames (Doug Wainoris on guitar and backing vocals, David "D.W." Gill on harmonica and backing vocals, Jack Tukey on bass, "Bongo" Bob Noyes on drums, and Jake Isaacson on piano). The set list delivers a sprinkling of blues standards (Got My Mojo Working, Hoochie Coochie Man) to rarely heard pieces (I Had My Fun, After Hours).
The show opens by Isaacson introducing Pinetop to the licks of Ike Turner's Chicken Shack, then shifts smoothly to the slow blues of After Hours, before revamping High Heel Sneakers and Waters' Hoochie Coochie Man. Murmur Low (AKA Big Fat Mama) opens with an imperative low piano roll that just makes you want to get up and shake "your meat on the bone." The mix between fast and slow blues numbers is well done, alternating about every two songs. That strategy helps keep the disc moving along, without dragging in either genre for too long.
The show ends with two standards: Got My Mojo Working and Caledonia. Pinetop and the Blue Flames take the workhorse tune Got My Mojo Working and deliver it with passion, from the crisp, clean guitar work of Doug Wainoris, to the strain in Pinetop's voice. On Caledonia, backed by the Pinetop's key-tinkling, David Gill's fine harmonica work and Wainoris' guitar blend together quite seamlessly as they exchange solos. The song ends with an infectious call-and-response, "wild about you baby," between Pinetop and his band.
The last track, the slow piano blues, I Almost Lost My Mind, is a bonus gem from the night before the Bowdoin College appearance. It was recorded as the finale at the Tradewinds Blues Plus Lounge in Rockford, Maine. The vibe from this performance is so strong, you can picture the smoke-filled club at 2:45 in the morning, nearly emptied, as Pinetop and the band, featuring Dan Lacasse on harmonica, roll through the number, still cranking out a top-notch performance.
While the merit of providing an entire set of live, unedited blues could be questioned, this CD does not fall into the traps of so many other blues albums. Many studio albums suffer from lacking the spontaneity and vigor of live blues performances, whereas many live albums are plagued by having too many drawn-out, rambling instrumentals. Live Top combines the strengths of both of these genres, providing the listener with a focused 69 minutes of live blues.
Edited by Cynthia A. Harney