When Jimmy Reed was yet again too plastered to take the stage one night in the 1950s—this time in a Baton Rouge church auditorium—young, local startup Leon Atkins spontaneously, and quite successfully, filled in with the band. And the rest is history.
That’s when and how Atkins got crowned as Lil’ Jimmy Reed. His relaxed, downhome style, originally modeled after his hero, remains so to this day. At a hale 84, he continues bare-handing lead lines out from his electric guitar while squeaking pungent notes from up high on his racked harmonica. An unassuming four-piece rhythm section pumps a steady supply of midtempo pulses for Atkins to keep chomping on, largely split between Reed covers and band-contributed originals. Whether thumping 1958’s “Down in Virginia” or the new “Wish You Wouldn’t,” Atkins is the man for the job.
Back to Baton Rouge gives a big shot in the arm to his limited discography, which is reflective of a career that has vastly prioritized performing on the road (40plus countries, worldwide) versus making records (this makes, at best, six). The setlist groves as well. Beyond being “Down in Virginia” to honor Reed, “Cincinnati’s the Place to Be” gives the band’s hometown a plug before the title track reminisces at an inchingly stealthy pace over Atkins’ old turf. “Mailbox Blues,” with its identifiable rumba jiggle, likewise stays in Baton Rouge, this time to honor Slim Harpo.
Lil’ Jimmy has got it all working here: His guitar hugs the ground. His A-harp orbits far above. His singing coasts with ragged ease. And his hair is perfect.
Label: Nola Blue
Release Date: 5/19/2023
Reviewed by Dennis Rozanski
Artist Website: https://www.liljimmyreed.com/
Artist Website: https://benlevinpiano.com/home