Alabama Slim – The Parlor
Cornelius Chapel Records/Music Maker Relief Foundation CCR54
10 songs – 30 minutes
Born Milton Frazier in Vance, Ala., in 1939, Alabama Slim was poised to make his debut on the big stage of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival last year before coronavirus cancelled the event, but he should get plenty of attention with the release of this disc – an effort that’s backed by an all-star lineup.
This is Slim’s fourth CD in a recording career that began in 2007 with The Mighty Flood and his third in partnership with Music Maker Relief Foundation – www.musicmaker.org, the non-profit based out of Hillsborough, N.C., that provides aid to elderly artists and helps promote their careers in an effort to preserve their musical traditions for future generations.
A true old-school character who stands nearly seven feet tall, Slim grew up listening to ‘78 records of Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin’ Hopkins on his parents’ Victrola turntable, beginning a lifelong love for the blues. He spent summers singing along with workers toiling in the fields of his grandparents’ farm. The cousin of Little Freddie King, who fronts the band on this recording, Alabama has been based out of New Orleans since the mid-‘60s, and worked for a moving company and a firm that made cooking oil before trading his day job for nights.
As a performer, Slim is a strong vocalist with a voice that’s reminiscent but slightly lighter in attack than John Lee Hooker. He started jamming on guitar with Freddie in the ‘80s. Close friends who share uncanny physical mannerisms, they’ve been trading licks regularly since the ‘90s, including on Blue & Lonesome, Slim’s 2010 Music Maker release. His only effort without King at his side is the 2013 APO album, Ironing Board Sam with Alabama Slim and Robert Lee Coleman.
The Parlor was co-produced by Ardie Dean — the percussionist for Jerry “Boogie” McCain and Beverly “Guitar” Watkins — in partnership with Music Maker founder Tim Duffy and wife Denise. A set of deep, soulful blues that deliver contemporary themes encased in a traditional sound with a driving beat, it was captured in one take to reel-to-reel tape in just four hours at the Big Easy recording studio The Parlor in 2019. The cousins are backed by Dean, former Squirrel Nut Zippers front man Jimbo Mathus on keys and Matt Patton of the Drive-By Truckers on bass.
“Hot Foot” jumps out of the gate with Slim half-speaking, half-singing lyrics about his heartache since his lady’s been away. An extended single-note guitar solo serves as a bridge before he repeats the sparse vocal to close. “Freddie’s Voodoo Boogie” follows with King following suit in his only appearance on the mic, and Slim takes command on the six-string as they deliver a tune suitable for any late-night juke.
Alabama’s true vocal talent appears for the first time in “Rob Me Without a Gun,” a ballad with a loping rhythm that puts a unique spin on a broken romance. The boogie’s back with “Rock with Me Momma,” which builds intensity throughout, before the ballad “All Night Long” finds the singer walking the streets and looking for his lady once again.
Another semi-spoken boogie, “Forty Jive,” delivers a little wry political commentary about the Trump administration, holding nothing back with lines that include: “Just drink the Kool-Aid and look away” and “Look at that fool standin’ up there/With a mail-order bride and a dead cat for hair.” Not to be confused with the Allman Brothers’ tune of the same name, “Midnight Rider” follows. It’s an original, propulsive blues that offers up a boast about the singer’s sexual prowess.
A cover of “Rock Me Baby” – B.B. King’s first Billboard Top 40 hit in 1964 – follows before the band dips into R.L. Burnside’s catalog for the familiar “Someday Baby.” The languorous “Down in the Bottom” – an original not to be confused with the Howlin’ Wolf classic – brings the action to a close.
The Parlor is as comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. Slip in for a good time if you like your blues bare-bones, stripped-down and old-school. Available through Amazon and other outlets.