Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Alabama Slim - The Parlor

Juke joints and back porches.  That’s where Alabama Slim is at.  Oh yeah, and bedrooms, a coupla times.  The Parlor may have been recorded in New Orleans, Slim’s adopted home, but the ten tracks it serves up are country blues.  Born in Vance, Alabama in 1939, Slim’s music is still the product of childhood’ and summers on his grandparents’ farm.  “Them old folks would get to moanin’ while they worked,” he says, “and I just started moanin’ with them.”
The connection to those days is evident in song choices such as ‘Rock Me Baby’ and a reading of Sleepy John Estes’ classic ‘Someday Baby’.  The former was around for many a year before
Alabama Slim - sharp dressed man gets down
BB King made it famous, and here is reduced to its core, with rudimentary drums and bass, and sparks of guitar.  The latter lopes briskly along on jingling and jangling guitars from Slim and his cousin Little Freddie King, gathering a touch more urgency before fading out.
There’s also a strong nod to John Lee Hooker in the opening brace of ‘Hot Foot’ and ‘Freddie’s Voodoo Boogie’.  ‘Hot Foot’ lays down a twisting, foot-tapping groove, with a bopping bass line from Matt Paton, underpinning rumbling rhythm guitar and trebly guitar embellishments.  ‘Freddie’s Voodoo Boogie’, with cousin Freddie on vocals, is an even more Hooker-esque slice of boogie, one guitar chugging while the other chimes, over a minimalist patter of drums.  And later on ‘Midnight Rider’ is boogie in looser-limbed vein, combining bright guitar chords, stuttering bass, and a clipping beat from drummer and producer Ardie Dean.
But if these tracks tell the tale of the juke joint dance floor, others sound like the dark night of the soul.  ‘Rob Me Without A Gun’ is a slow and sombre meditation on abandonment, with quietly doomy bass, spare guitar notes and chords, and some ghostly flutters of organ chords from Jimbo Mathus.  ‘All Night Long’ seems a tad sketchy by comparison, with its undulating guitar line and sprinkles of glittery licks, this time enhanced by Mathus with subtle strokes of piano.  The haunted closer ‘Down In The Bottom’ – not the Howlin’ Wolf song of the same name – is rather better, with Slim moaning and groaning doubts and uncertainties over whispered percussion, while the sparse guitars push and pull, creating a tense and unpredictable vibe.
‘Rock Me Baby’ and ‘Rock With Me Momma’ are about sex, plain and simple.  If the former is somewhat dulled by familiarity, the latter feels steamy and sweaty, its groove relaxed and insistent at the same time as Slim croons his appreciation of his “momma”.  There’s life, it seems, in the old dog yet.
In the midst of all this, ‘Forty Jive’ is a contemporary little diamond.  “Aw, look at that fool standing up there,” Slim’s semi-spoken vocal begins, “with the mail-order bride and the dead cat for hair.”  It’s the opening sally in a stiletto-like skewering of a certain Donald Trump.  If brevity is the soul of wit, this funky little charmer is a prime example.  “Undertaker,” Slim concludes, “you have to screw him into the ground.”  Amen to that.
The Parlor is like the ghost of country blues past, captured with the clarity of modern recording techniques - stripped back but embroidered by the intertwining guitars of Alabama Slim and his cousin Little Freddie.  It’s not going to change the world, but if you like real deal blues, look no further.
The Parlor is released by Cornelius Chapel Records on 29 January.

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