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James Booker: Classified: Remixed and Expanded

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Before listening to Classified, the album that many consider New Orleans pianist James Booker’s finest, it’s helpful to know the backstory. Co-producer Scott Billington details that tale in the liner notes accompanying this reissue: how in 1982 he had approached the perennially troubled and notoriously difficult Booker and his management about recording, only to be confronted for months by one delay after another. Sometimes Booker was in jail; other times he was behaving rather bizarrely.

Listening now to the expanded-length results-the remixed reissue nearly doubles the content-it’s remarkable not only that it came out at all but that Booker pulled himself together to cut such a masterful work. As quintessential a NOLA pianist as Professor Longhair or Fats Domino, Booker’s command of his instrument is never less than awe inspiring, whether taking on a rock and roll classic (“Hound Dog”), a country hit (“King of the Road”), a Tin Pan Alley standard (“Baby Face”) or even classical music (his technique on “Warsaw Concert” is jaw-dropping).

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