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Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions - A Hurricane Relief Benefit

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Album Review

George Winston's benefit record for the Gulf Coast and New Orleans was issued a week after the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and in the middle of hurricane season. He is donating all proceeds to various organizations around the region. Winston proves he can shake it on this set. He's not James Booker, whose "Pixie" he covers wonderfully here. Nor is he "Fess" (Professor Longhair), Dr. John (a cover of "Creole Moon" is on this set), or his friend Henry Butler — whose crib in the Lower Ninth Ward got wiped out by Katrina. But he can play this music, and his own compositions are soulful, direct, and loaded with aural imagery from the Big Easy tradition. His read of "Creole Moon" may not possess the loose, joyous, funky butt swing of Dr. John's ballad, but it does contain plenty of soul; as an interpreter, Winston coaxes some of the more sophisticated compositional aspects of the tune out through the blues. Likewise, "Pixie" is a bit more formal than the fluid jump of Booker's version, but Winston gets the spirit across and kicks it into high stride blues. He composed his own extrapolation of the cut as well, called "Pixie #3 (Gôbajie)" (named after his cat). Apparently there will be a "Pixie #4 (Gôbajie)" on a future disc. The best of the covers is Butler's "The Breaks"; he nails it. His interpretation, while different, leans heavily on the left hand, but it's got the funk. His own short ballads and the brief "Stevenson" are lovely in their own way, relaxed and engaging simultaneously. "When the Saints Go Marching In" offers the single greatest testament to Winston's technical and emotional abilities, and he gives the tune an extended workout; it's nearly 12-minutes long. His middle-register playing is deep blues brined in stride-style boogie-woogie with a gorgeously long intro. The album closes with "Blues for Fess," a New Orleans elegy that comes whispering out of the gate and keeps its quiet dignity, even while caressing its blues. This is perhaps the most engaging Winston album ever, and one anyone who's ever been interested in him should own.


Born: 1949 in Michigan

Genre: New Age

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Self-described "rural folk piano" player George Winston was among the earliest and most successful proponents of the genre of contemporary instrumental music later dubbed new age. Although born in Michigan in 1949, he was raised primarily in Montana, the extreme seasonal changes he experienced there later greatly influencing the pastoral feel of his music. Even as a child, Winston preferred instrumental music over vocal performances, counting among his early heroes Booker T. & the MG's, Floyd Cramer,...
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