Lil’ Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin
Back to Baton Rouge
Nola Blue Records
Release Date: May 19, 2023
Publicity: Blind Raccoon
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro © May 2023
Having just learned that Lil’ Jimmy Reed – or as his military ID would have read, Leon Atkins – spent twenty years of his life serving this great country of ours, regardless of if his military rank merits the use of this word or not, I’m throwing it out there and saying, “Thank You, Sir!”
On Back to Baton Rouge, which I believe is his fifth release, 84-year-old Lil’ Jimmy Reed joined forces with a young man who literally could be his great grandson, 23-year-old Ben Levin. That said, with Jimmy having played nearly twice as many years as Ben has lived, and having played in nearly twice as many countries than Ben has had birthdays, by no means should this young talent be considered wet behind the ears or, to use a military term, a “boot”. You see, having four releases of his own, Ben also has two Blues Music Award nominations actually making this a collaboration between two music veterans – one old and one young.
The rest of the band joining Lil’ Jimmy Reed on guitar, harmonica and vocals; and Ben Levin, the disc’s producer, on piano are: Aron Levin, who Ben calls “Dad”, on second guitar; Walter Cash on bass; with Ricky Nye and Shorty Star on drums. The disc contains ten tracks with five each being covers and five being originals penned by various combinations of Atkins and/or the Levins.
Since Lil’ Jimmy Reed proudly boasts “I loved Jimmy Reed music, so I fell in love with his music. I wouldn’t play nobody’s music but Jimmy Reed. I used to imitate him… I don’t care who had a record out. I wouldn’t play nothing but Jimmy Reed”; it’s only fitting that the opener is a cover of his “Down In Virginia” recording. This is classic Jimmy Reed stuff done exactly like he’d do it himself. With Walter and Ricky laying down a smooth shuffle rhythm behind him and Ben shining on several smooth piano leads, Lil’ Jimmy is killing it on the vocals and guitar and sounding every bit as good as his idol on those very high-end harp leads. He doesn’t just imitate Jimmy Reed and his music, he’s mastered it. For the record, Jimmy Reed was by far my all-time favorite, harmonica player.
One of the originals, “They Call Me Lil’ Jimmy” tells the true story of how Leon Atkins became Lil’ Jimmy Reed. As the story goes, in 1958, on the night Jimmy Reed was scheduled to perform in Louisiana, he got drunk and couldn’t perform. With the parties involved knowing Leon – who was in the right place at the right time – had pretty much mastered Jimmy’s style of play, they slipped him in the front door while sneaking drunken Jimmy out the back. After that, there was no looking back, that night, as everyone referred to him, Leon Atkins became Lil’ Jimmy Reed. It’s a great story that incorporates tales of his world travels and his thirty-seven grandchildren that Lil’ Jimmy is very proud to tell.
On another original, Lil’ Jimmy sings of returning “Back To Baton Rouge”. This is the kind of stuff I listened to as a kid and never knew I was listening to the blues. It features such a soft rhythm on which Shorty may even be using brushes and not sticks; that Fats Domino style of soft and repetitive high end piano chords; slow and soulful vocals that are closer to being spoken than being sung; and precision blues guitar leads that soothe rather than sting. It’s the kind of song that the slow dancers love because it’s even too slow to dance to, so they just stand, squeeze and sway. So simply, yet so masterfully done.
On this clever original track, the “Engine Light” being on is causing Lil’ Jimmy lots of concern. His oil is leaking, his tires have no thread, he’s running out of gas and he’s sure he’s gonna break down. Sadly, none of this is happening to his car, it’s all happening in his relationship.
The disc closes with “Mailbox Blues” (J. Moore/R. Stuart), which features Lil’ Jimmy paying homage to his homie, the late, great, Slim Harpo. This is the second of two tracks pairing Miss Shorty on drums with Walter Cash, Jr. on bass, and this time they’ve kicked the rhythm up a notch and have a cool rumba vibe going on. In the meantime, the big boss man…pun intended, and his young associate are working wonders proving there’s no generation gap in music. The Lil’ one laying down some of the disc’s best guitar work and the ‘little one’ is laying down some slick piano leads.
Other tracks on Back To Baton Rouge include: “Wish You Wouldn’t” and “Cincinnati’s The Place To Be”, both originals; “In The Wee Wee Hours” (J. C. Liggins); I’m The Man Down There” and “A String In Your Heart”, two more Jimmy Reed songs.
Should like to find out more about Lil’ Jimmy Reed with Ben Levin, just go to – www.liljimmyreed.com/. Remember, wherever you go and whomever you speak with, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.
“The Blues Is My Passion And Therapy”
Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro
Blues Editor @ www.Mary4Music.com
2011 “Keeping The Blues Alive” Award Recipient