Benjamin Booker is conspicuously missing from the Jazz Fest lineup, but he has a new vinyl-only live album and will play One Eyed Jacks Friday and Saturday nights.

benjamin booker photo
Benjamin Booker, by David Goldman

There’s no getting around Benjamin Booker’s voice. He puts it on the line every show, and each performance sounds like it could be the last one. When he scrapes his vocal chords down to the final fibers. Its hushed quality makes every song sound like a secret he’s sharing, one so exhausting to carry that he’s never more than a moment from righteous rage. He’s simultaneously intimate and theatrical, so his songs draw you in even when the craft and composition tells you that the moment is entirely constructed.

Booker won't be at Jazz Fest, but he will play One Eyed Jacks Friday and Saturday nights. Earlier this year, he released the vinyl-only Live at Third Man Records, which features music from his self-titled debut album and a cover of Furry Lewis’ “Falling Down Blues.” It doesn’t hit as hard as Benjamin Booker, where Andrija Tokic’s production rachets up the guitar dynamics and the sonic weight of his sound. But the urgent intensity of Booker’s performance is raw, gripping and just as powerful in its own way. 

“Falling Down Blues” offers a brief respite mid-set as its fiddle-driven, acoustic sound gives the set a some valuable breathing room. Booker’s arrangement’s loose, almost ad hoc, and its homespun quality makes his exaggerated, rock ’n’ roll yowl all the more expressive. Like some of the most enduring blues, you feel him more than get him, and like good rock ’n’ roll, for the song’s almost six minute-long running time, Booker makes you believe the performance has no precedent, and he’s not tipping his hand to hint otherwise.    

For more on Booker, see our profile from 2014.