Alabama Slim, The Parlor (Cornelius Chapel Records, with the Music Maker Relief Foundation)
Approaching his 82nd birthday, close to seven feet tall, and typically dressed in an impeccable tailored suit, Alabama Slim has given us a perfect, classic blues album which recalls the boogie of John Lee Hooker.
It’s delicious, pared-back, but tasty fare from a man whose soulful and oh-so-cool vocals are served up in a wrap of sweet guitar groove from Little Freddie King, Slim’s cousin. The two octogenarians rock their way through this set of ten songs with consummate ease, aided along the way by Ardie Dean’s masterful drums and some bass, organ and piano added by Matt Patton and Jimbo Mathus.
It really is classic stuff, as you might expect from two guys who have lived and played the blues all their lives. Said Slim, born Milton Frazier in Vance, Alabama, in 1939, “I grew up listening to the old blues since I was a child. I spent summers with my grandparents who had a farm. Them old folks would get to moanin’ while they worked, and I just started moanin’ with them. That’s where I learned to sing. When I got grown I formed a band and we played little juke joints.”
He and Freddie King have been close pals, playing together for many years in New Orleans. During Katrina, Slim rescued his cousin, the two evacuating together. The fruits of that close relationship can be heard on The Parlor, with Slim’s smooth vocals and King’s rhythmic guitar interweaving effortlessly song after song.
The album kicks off with a giggle from Slim and an “all right!” as Freddie King’s starts an insistent riff on Hot Foot. It’s less than two minutes long, but you know what sort of territory you are in straight away and the sort of good-natured, groove-filled blues that is going to unfold. We’re then into the classic-sounding and rockin’ Freddie’s VooDoo Boogie where King takes over lead vocals.
Numbers like Midnight Rider and Rock Me Baby continue the toe-tapping groove-mixture of silky-smooth vocals and laid-back guitar work, which is at the heart of the album. Rob Me Without a Gun, on the other hand, is a slow-burning, atmospheric blues, the bass underpinning the classic 12 bar blues form, King’s guitar weaving its magic and Slim’s vocals perfect for late night listening.
Right in the middle of the album comes the politically charged Forty Jive, which pulls no punches in its searing critique of America’s just-gone president. “A thousand scandals a day, just take this Kool-aid and look away…now the whole world got the blues, from a fool…who was born to lose.” Brilliantly observed and articulated by a man who has seen fourteen American presidents come and go.
Alabama Slim proves that classic blues presented with amount of soul, cool and a lifetime of blues feeling is far from dead. The Parlor is one fine blues album.