Boogaloo Ames – Going Down Slow | Album Review

Boogaloo Ames – Going Down Slow

Wolf Records

12 songs, 38 minutes

Abie “Boogaloo” Ames was one of the last great practitioners of Barrelhouse Piano. Born either in 1918 or 1920 in either Jamaica (as he told everyone), Mississippi or Georgia (depending on which census documents you want to believe), Ames cut his teeth as a young man in Detroit. He then moved back to Mississippi and had a long, and mostly under the radar, career until his death in 2002. Going Down Slow is the only full length album credited to Ames. Recorded in Greenville, MS in 1998, these 12 songs capture Ames’ genius solo and after a lifetime of development.

Boogaloo’s playing is truly a revelation. At times supple and tender, then bombastic and commanding, Ames coaxes layers of feeling. His touch on the keys is so expressive and distinct. The program of songs is pretty standard from the title track to “Early in the Morning,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Caldonia,” and “Further On Up the Road.” But, Boogaloo breathes fire into these songs through his vibrant playing. Adding splashes of 6th chords and twisting chord substitutions, Boogaloo takes the simple structure of these tunes and the barrelhouse style and intensifies it.

Especially shining are the 2 instrumentals “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” and “After Hours.” Ames creates whole universes chorus after chorus. Not just interpreting a century of musical invention, Ames inverts and reinvents the music that could be hackneyed in lesser hands.

Boogaloo Ames was not a vocalist and unfortunately he does sing over the majority of the tunes. His phrasing is good, but his pronunciation is so garbled and his pitch so off that it is at times unsettling. At it’s best it reminds a listener of some of the fine amateur Hill Country artists who were recorded early on by Fat Possum such as Robert Cage, Scott Dunbar or Paul “Wine” Jones. When he vocalizes in a scat style and doesn’t try to deliver lyrics it is more effective. Tunes like “What’d I Say” and “Everyday I Have the Blues” are effective in this way.

Going Down Slow is an important document. Boogaloo Ames was clearly a towering giant of roiling Blues piano. The liner notes by Klaus Kilian are informative and help to ground Ames’ place in a larger context. But more importantly, Boogaloo Ames’ undeniable artistry thrills and transcends.

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