Snooks Eaglin: St. James Infirmary
St. James Infirmary
Snooks Eaglin (guitar, vocals)
New Orleans Street Singer (Smithsonian Folkways 40165)
Snooks Eaglin (guitar, vocals).
Rating: 91/100 (learn more)
The blues were never quite so blue when Snooks Eaglin sang them, and even the minor key lament "St. James Infirmary" will put a bounce in your step when this Crescent City master adds his spin to it. Eaglin was born in New Orleans (1936) and died in New Orleans (2009), and though his his range of artistic expression was dauntingly he wide—he claimed to know 2,500 songs, and his recordings cover every style from R&B to folk music—the stamp of his hometown was always present in his work. A sense of freedom and exuberance permeated his performances, both his guitar playing and his Ray Charles-ish vocals. Here he takes an antiquated song that will forever be associated with New Orleans (albeit one drawn originally from the English folk ballad "The Unfortunate Rake") and wears it like a second-hand suit that somehow becomes a bespoke garment in a hip new style. Even a slightly out-of-tune guitar can't spoil the magic. Three cheers for Snooks, but save one for Dr. Harry Oster, a seldom recognized champion of American vernacular music, who made this recording possible.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia