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SAVE THE BONES BY DANNY BARKER (REVIEW - The Mississippi Rag)

This is a relaxed, intimate recording, sounding much like it would sound like if one were to spend an afternoon at Danny Barker's house, sipping iced tea and listening to him talk about the old days, periodically picking up his guitar to demonstrate some nuance of a long-forgotten song.

Danny Barker hit the ground talking when he returned to New Orleans in the 1960s after a long career in New York, where he was best known for his long stint with Cab Calloway. Danny's been a spokesman for New Orleans jazz for a long time, as assistant curator of the New Orleans Jazz Museum, as author of two books on jazz, and in countless recordings and concert appearances. He also helped revive New Orleans brass band music through his work with the Fairview Baptist Church brass band.

But you know all that, I'm sure. What you may not know is that Barker is a past master of the sarcastic aside. I had the pleasure of seeing his band at the Chicago Jazz Festival this summer and he had an audience of thousands howling at those of his asides that made it through a poor sound system. His asides serve to amplify and poke fun at the numbers. Now, instead of merely pouring water on a drowning man, "Hard-Hearted Hannah" now pours a variety of noxious substances on a drowning man who is also blind and crippled. And, in "St. James Infirmary," his baby is busy dying while attended by "slick doctors and double-breasted nurses." It's all great fun, and adds to the feeling that you're just sitting and chatting with Barker, though I noted this summer that he followed virtually the same routine in appearing with his band as he does on this album, right down to more of the "off-handed" jive.

Barker is sort of a show-business type as much as he is a musician, having been involved in the music career of his wife, blues singer Blue Lu Barker as well as doing more than a little songwriting. Several of his compositions appear, including "Save the Bones" ("for Henry Jones, for Henry won't eat no meat") a number I've sung to my kids since they were babies, yet which is very hard to find on record, despite having been a minor hit in the late 1940s when recorded by such stars as Johnny Mercer and Nat Cole. Other compositions include a western song, "I'm a Cowboy," and a rhythm-and-blues number, "You Gotta Get Yourself a Job, Girl," written for a 1960s recording session.

Recording quality and presentation are good, with a beautiful cover and notes by Floyd Levin. The sound quality is almost too good in that the guitar sounds like it is right on top of the microphone. It doesn't sound like it would if you were listening to Barker in concert but, once again, it's probably like it would sound if you were sitting in his living room.

All in all, this is an enjoyable album, full of life and a splendid example of the work of one of the most enduring stars of New Orleans jazz. Most of the places I shop at have this album in stock, but then again, I don't shop at the neighborhood heavy metal emporium. Should this be unavailable from your record purveyor, don't worry, you can order it from Orleans Records and Tapes, [address relocated]. No price information was provided.

---Page Van Vorst

 

This review was previously posted in The Mississippi Rag [February 1992, pg. 28]

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