Li’l Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin
Back to Baton Rouge
Classy and Classic Sweet Southern Blues From an Unknown Master of The Craft.
Even in the bio on his website Leon Atkins, aka Lil’ Jimmy Reed is very vague about his back story, apart from being born in a shotgun shack in Louisiana sometime in the late 1930’s and being re-named Li’l Jimmy Reed in 1958 when he stood in at the last minute for the original Jimmy Reed.
Constantly touring since the late 1950’s in a variety of bands, I think Atkins/Reed seems to have concentrated on this part of his career rather than releasing albums; as only three others are listed.
I think the backstory is important to give you all an inkling as to what to expect on his latest album; which is classy and classic Southern Blues in the style of …. well, just about everyone I can think of, which all rolls together to create an very personal and distinctive style of playing; both his guitar work, singing style and his note perfect band.
The opening track Down in Virginia is a nigh on perfect introduction as to what follows; Reed’s voice is both luxurious and deeply emotional, the guitar playing errs between what we know from Muddy Waters but with some slick riffs that would make Buddy Guy proud; and when he puffs and wheezes into his harmonica you will be whisked back to Chicago when Little Walter was holding court.
This is followed by the salacious and slinky They Call Me Li’l Jimmy; when Reed reads out his CV, including how he got his name in 1958 as a way of seducing any ladies in the audience. Cool? Huh?
On Cincinnati’s the Place To Be; Reed’s guitar playing changes into an edgy format alongside a hypnotic bass that will have even those with two left feet shuffling around the dancefloor/kitchen.
When you hear songs like his take on In The Wee Wee Hours or Mailbox Blues and especially the slow burning title track, Back To Baton Rouge you; like me will wonder why Li’l Jimmy Reed isn’t much better known as the arrangements and actual stories are exemplary, making them every bit as good as most current household names hawking their acts around the world.
I love the shuffling beat, John Lee Hooker delivery and metronome timing on Engine Light, while Jimmy apologises to his young lady passenger when the car ‘breaks down’ and he wonders how they ae going to fill in their time.
This followed by another tale of skewed passion and high jinks with I’m The Man Down There, which features some sizzling harmonica playing, which edges it into the running for RMHQ Favourite Song; but is pipped at the post by the majestic A String To Your Heart, which would be a favourite even without the inclusion of some Deluxe Harmonica and ‘Pinetop Perkins’ style piano playing in the middle.
While I have to admit that Reed’s ‘style’ offers not a lot that’s new here; but as I said at the beginning his songs are all Classy AND Classic in the way he performs them; so “if it ain’t broke – don’t fix it!” is as good an adage as I can think of to describe this rather excellent bunch of timeless Blues Songs.
Released 19th May 2023
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