Mac Rebennack and James Booker have a lot in common: both were born in New Orleans within a year of each other; found work there as precocious rhythm & blues piano aces in the mid-Fifties; developed reputations as crack studio sidemen and streetwise eccentrics in the early Sixties; and have been carrying on the grand New Orleans piano tradition ever since. Though each was inspired by Professor Longhair and, later, by Huey "Piano" Smith, these two LPs pay homage, in varying degrees, to another influence — Ray Charles.
Charles' influence is more muted on the Rebennack disc, a studio date that's all solo piano except for one typically croaking vocal. But it's there in Mac's delicately gospel-sounding right-hand "trickerations" (as he calls them) and in the churchy jazz he dispenses on such numbers as "Mac's Boogie."
Booker's recital was recorded live and features an unusually generous helping of the pianist's rococo, Ray Charles-style vocals. The Huey Smith riff that Mac plays around with on "Pinetop" is also the basis of "Tell Me How Do You Feel," Booker's sparkling New Orleans gem. Anyone who knows Booker's history of musical triumphs and personal tragedies will find the selection of material (i.e., "Black Night," "Come Rain or Come Shine" and the transcendent "Let Them Talk") both moving and utterly apropos. And until you've heard New Orleans' Piano Prince and the original Junco Partner tackle "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and extract emotional resonances from the hoary Sinatra hit "Something Stupid," well, you can jocka-mo-fe-na-nay.