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September 2002

Henry Butler
The Game Has Just Begun
Basin Street Records

A classically trained keyboardist with a growling, old-style vocal delivery, Henry Butler offers blues romps with a twist on The Game Has Just Begun (Basin Street). Butler handles not only trilled, Tin Pan Alley rag work on the piano on tunes like the album's rollicking title track, but also showcases a variety of modern keyboard settings and ambient noises in the mix. The pieces veering closer to traditional roots-blues formats tend to work the best-gospel-tinged harmonica and organ provide the framework for Butler to sing "You Are My Sunshine" like an exalted hymn, for example. The pumping blues of "This Is Where I Live" (featuring some well-placed searing guitar work by June Yamagishi) is another highlight, along with the rubberband funk-flavored "Tie Me Down." The modern meshes are more hit-or-miss, with "Fall Blues" creating an effective, menacing industrial atmosphere from bell tones and scratch effects contrasting piano and harmonica, while "Regeneration" is an odd mismatch of mechanical and traditional sounds. "Liberty Street Blues" quakes and shimmers with deep-blue organ under a strangely majestic chord progression. But when Butler growls and grinds out the keyboards, as on a party-down, honky-tonk read of "Great Balls of Fire," it's pure Louisiana blues magic.

Originally published in September 2002
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