There's a sticker on the front of my copy of these reissued 1959 sessions that informs us that Mojo has called this effort from the still-living Big Easy guitarist "one of the top ten greatest guitar albums of all time."
And for the first few tracks, that seems to be very much an overenthusiastic claim -- what you hear is top-shelf, mid-century folk-blues in the vein of Lightnin' Hopkins's Gold Star material, some standards like "Careless Love" and "St. James Infirmary" and solo acoustic readings of the R&B hits of the '50s: "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer," "Mean Old World," "Driftin' Blues" and the like. There's also "Mama Don't Tear My Clothes," a variant of "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" of Bob Dylan fame and, in my view, the Mardi Gras anthem "Big Chief." Good stuff, but nothing jaw-dropping.
And then you get to "High Society." Wow. Just wow. The tune is an old Dixieland standard, and Eaglin coaxes a whole jazz band out of his guitar -- slap bass, trumpet, clarinet, the whole shebang. Each section is more elaborate and intricate than the last, and when he busts out some quicksilver flamenco licks, you have to just shake your head in wonder. The liner notes -- by guitarist and author Elijah Wald -- tell us that this song made Eaglin a legend among guitarists, and it's easy to see why. And while this might not be one of the best guitar albums of all time, "High Society" is certainly one of the best instrumentals I've heard on any instrument.
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