Henry Butler - PiaNOLA Live

Henry Butler
PiaNOLA Live

(Basin Street)

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11

Written by John Metzger

Tue November 18, 2008, 06:30 AM CST

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Although he long has been considered a star in his hometown of New Orleans, Henry Butler has yet to attain the same level of name recognition around the country as his fellow pianists: Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair. As long as Butler keeps making albums like PiaNOLA Live, this isnít likely to change, either. Although the outing is a sterling showcase for Butlerís broad vision and prodigious talent, it also is a rather difficult effort to embrace. Its unvarnished atmosphere combined with the multifaceted complexity of its textures inevitably makes it nearly impenetrable to the uninitiated.

In crafting PiaNOLA Live, Butler poured through the extensive archive of concert recordings that he made over the preceding 25 years. With the help of producer George Winston, he seamlessly cobbled together 11 tracks that pay tribute to his Crescent City heritage. In fact, itís impossible not to view PiaNOLA Live both as a reminder of the devastation that was wrought on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina (and FEMA, for that matter) and as a testament to the resilience of its citizens. Butler lost his house and most of his belongings in the disaster, and he peppered the album with songs that seem to examine the aftermath from every angle.

Initially, it is challenging to follow Butlerís seemingly freewheeling fashion of performing. The songs alone improbably oscillate from American standards like Old Man River to a playful romp through Toussaintís Mother-in-Law to a haunted and mournful rendition of Otis Reddingís (Sittiní on) The Dock of the Bay. Even within the arrangements themselves, Butler shifts gears without notice, frequently leaning upon the elegant classicism and theatrical flourishes of George Gershwin as much as he does on the strains of gospel, jazz, blues, and soul that long have emanated from the heart of New Orleans.

Jamming pieces together that appear unlikely to fit, Butler forcefully pits pounding rhythms against elongated melodies until they become engaged in a spirited dance. Ultimately, his dizzying display serves the underlying theme of PiaNOLA Live by capturing the turbulence of the catastrophe as well as his own determination to survive. There is no doubt that PiaNOLA Live is a masterful endeavor, but perseverance truly is the only way to appreciate fully the adventurousness of Butlerís impassioned flights. starstarstar Ĺ

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Of Further Interest...

Marcia Ball - So Many Rivers

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint - The River in Reverse

Various Artists - Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Christmas

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PiaNOLA Live is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2008 The Music Box