Spiders on the Keys

Spiders on the Keys
James Booker: Spiders on the Keys

Listening to James Booker, half crazy and in the final years of his hard life make spine tingling music on this horrible saloon upright takes the term ‘it is a bad craftsman who blames his tools’ to a new level. These recordings were taken from hundreds of hours of tapes from Booker’s ‘77-82 solo piano performances at the Maple Leaf bar. He dances effortlessly all over the style map from Chopin-meets-gypsy to Spanish influenced boogies and seems simultaneously possessed by what seems to be both demon and angel these performances. Booker is a master at setting up seemingly untenable grooves and making them work without letting them box him in a corner. He creates a sublime paradox of lightness and rock hard percussiveness that seems to defy the laws of piano physics. There is only a smattering of drunken applause at the end of a lot these performances. Many great moments in music come and go without anybody noticing. It is the curse of an art form that exists so stubbornly in present time. Recordings are often bad representations of what was happening in a room – especially a live performance with a personality of this size. Despite all of that, we should be grateful that someone set up a cassette deck on this particular mixing board.

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