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Monday, July 31, 2017

Champion Jack Dupree: Back Home In New Orleans


1) When I'm Drinkin'; 2) Lonesome Bedroom; 3) I Don't Know; 4) Calcutta Blues; 5) Freedom; 6) My Woman Left Me; 7) Broken Hearted; 8) Way Down; 9) The Blind Man; 10) No Future.

The title says it all. After thirty years of living all over the place in Europe, now aged something like 80 (because nobody knows his birthday properly), Champion Jack Dupree finally finds him­self back in his hometown — for a brief while, for sure, but well enough to make his way to the nearest recording studio and lay down a bunch of tracks that would serve as the basis for his last albums. Exactly what he had been doing in between 1977 and 1990 is hard to ascertain: disco­graphies for that period are just as messy and conflicting as for the earlier years, usually mixing together re-releases of old material, part-time collaborations with other artists, and genuinely new stuff — although for Dupree, «genuinely new» usually means just another take on something from about 1940, with new session players and more modern production techniques. In any case, whatever he did produce in the Eighties is fairly hard to get these days, and only the most rabid of completists should probably bother getting it.

These records from the early 1990s, though, having been released on the Bullseye Blues label (run by keyboardist and producer Ron Levy), have the distinction of being American and, thus, somewhat easier to locate. Most of the musicians backing Dupree on this one are Louisiana natives, except for guitar player Kenn Lending — this guy comes from Denmark, yet another blues aficionado who'd struck a friendship with the Champ sometime in the early Eighties, back when his own Kenn Lending Blues Band was hailed as «the hardest working blues band in Den­mark». Like most of Dupree's collaborators, Lending sounds like a respectable bluesman, but one that is completely derivative of B. B. King and Eric Clapton, and therefore, just another humble sideman for Dupree.

The album is a big band affair, with plenty of brass overdubs, but the only outstanding thing about it depends on the context — I would be hard pressed to name another blues album from 1990 that would be recorded by a genuine pre-war artist with that much verve: Dupree's vocals sound completely unaffected by time, and although they have never been particularly special, the age of 80 is precisely that moment where the «nothing special-ness» has a good chance of being converted to greatness, as the record becomes an arrogantly time-defying moment in history. At this point, he can re-write and re-record his (or other people's) material all he wants, anything will sound awesome as long as he still hits those keys with full force and belts out those blues clichés with the voice of... well, with the voice of a grizzled old black man, but now that he's eighty and all, this voice serves him better than ever.

Commenting on individual tracks is pointless: by this time, we are expected to almost precisely guess the ratio of lush blues ballads to straightahead 12-bar blues to jump blues and rockabilly numbers on a CJD record, and apart from that, the album features no specific diary-style surprises: perhaps the very pleasure of recording in his homeland again automatically limited Dupree to the most basic styles of self-repetition. From the opening dance-blues chords of ʽWhen I'm Drinkin'ʼ to the closing slow blues of ʽNo Futureʼ, Back Home In New Orleans is one big party where even the sorrowful numbers surreptitiously ring with joy, and the best I can do is acknowledge that this happy feel exuded by the old man ends up being infectious. Above and beyond every­thing else, Champion Jack Dupree is a smiling survivor — and this is why it is so important for us to have this album from him, even if it does not truly deserve more than one listen.

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