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Monday, April 25, 2011

Big Joe Turner: Texas Style


1) Money First; 2) Hide And Seek; 3) I've Got A Pocket Full Of Pencils; 4) Rock Me Baby; 5) Cherry Red; 6) Texas Style; 7) T.V. Mama; 8) T'Ain't Nobody's Business; 9) Morning Glory; 10*) Rock Me Baby (take 1).

Big Joe kept on making records all the way into the 1960s and 1970s; his last LP on Pablo Re­cords came out in 1984, approximately a year before his demise. Most of these albums, however, are tremendously hard to find, and once you do find them, it is tremendously hard to understand what in the world made you look for them in the first place. They weren't popular, they weren't re­vered, and the only real differences between all of them concern who, where, and when is ac­companying Big Joe on this particular date. Because you can always count on Big Joe to sound exactly the same. The guy never lets you down, but after a very short while, it becomes extremely boring to be standing so high up all of the time.

Reviewing the couple dozen or so albums that the man recorded in between 1956 and 1985 would be even more excruciating than an attempt to collect all of them; so here is just one example, the result of an inspired, but hardly phenomenal blues & jazz session in 1971, recently re-released with bonus tracks and all. All of the songs, of course, are old standards; recording quality is not altogether good, with Joe himself kept oddly down in the mix as if the entire band were gathered around one mike except for Joe in a faraway corner.

The players, however, are distinctive. On piano we have Milt Buckner, famous for having once popularized the Hammond organ as well as allegedly inventing «block chords» (although that particular credit goes to at least half a dozen different people depending on one's biases); he takes a few magnificent solos, particularly on 'Nobody's Business', way beyond anything Pete Johnson ever had to offer (although, to be fair, on the speedier numbers Buckner never manages to let his hair down as convincingly as Pete). And on bass, we have Slam Stewart, a guy with a unique style of bowing his instrument and humming along at the same time. Granted, most of the time the resulting sound is un­dis­tin­gui­shable from creative farting in your tuba, but the trick is that the guy has no tuba and does not ac­tually fart. For the first couple of times, Slam's gimmick has some fun novelty value — later on, it becomes unbearable (which is probably why not a lot of jazzmen have copied the technique), but, fortunately, he does not do it on every track.

Needless to say that, for 1971, all of this is as abysmally retro as could be; and also, I will proba­bly not be mistaken by much if I say that, for all of those nearly thirty years, Big Joe has not come up with even one semi-original idea. (A couple of songs here are technically «new», but in reality they are just old melodies set to reshuffled lyrics). Still, there is some deeply felt satisfac­tion that in 1971, he could still sound as reckless and brawny as he did in 1938. All the sadder it is too realize that all of that tenaciousness and energy was essentially wasted on lots of self-repe­tition and subpar by-the-book recordings. At least this one has Milt Buckner.

Check "Texas Style" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Texas Style" (MP3) on Amazon

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