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Henry Butler: PiaNOLA Live

Mike Perciaccante By

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In a town famous for its piano virtuosos—Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo, Professor Longhair, James Booker, and even Harry Connick, Jr. (all New Orleans natives)—Henry Butler is a giant. Though his eclectic mixture of funk, blues, jazz, pop, schmaltz, rock and standards isn't everyone's cup of tea, his musical genius is legendary. Musicians and fans both hail Butler as the next piano superstar.

Butler is a quintuple-threat, being an excellent writer, arranger, interpreter, player and multi-instrumentalist. Though he hasn't yet been discovered by the masses, his latest CD, PiaNOLA Live should serve as a step in that direction.

This is the first completely solo recording that Butler, blind since birth, has released. The fact that it was recorded live makes it even more special.

The disc features 11 tracks of pure delight, beginning with the classic "Basin Street Blues," on which Butler pays homage to those who came before him by playing it in a truly New Orleans-esque manner. Butler also lays down some fine R&B piano on the Toussaint-penned, Ernie K-Doe hit "Mother-In-Law," a slow, heartfelt version of Otis Redding's "Dock Of the Bay" and his own rollicking, joyful composition "New Orleans Inspiration"—Butler's signature tune and tour de force.

Other highlights include Butler's version of Governor Jimmie Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," re-interpreted here as a blues and "North American Idiosyncrasies," composed by Alvin Batiste (who taught Butler at the Louisiana State School for the Blind). "Let 'Em Roll," which Butler previously recorded with Corey Harris on the guitarist's Vu-Du Menz (Alligator Records, 2000), features a stunning, thumping and powerful barrelhouse piano, followed by a slow-build to a frenzied version of Professor Longhair's "Tipitina."

The sounds that Butler coaxes, cajoles, pounds and brings forth from his instrument fill the entire room. It is both amazing and deeply satisfying to know that PiaNOLA Live was made by only one man and his piano.

Track Listing: Basin St. Blues; Orleans Inspiration; Mother-In-Law; Dock Of The Bay; Let 'Em Roll; Somethin' You Got; You Are My Sunshine; Tipitina; Will It Go Round in Circles; Old Man River; North American Idiosyncrasies.

Personnel: Henry Butler: piano, vocals.

Title: Pianola Live | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Basin Street Records

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