HBO’s Treme is an excellent introduction to New Orleans music

Occasionally, when someone learns about my New Orleans music show, they’ll ask me: “Have you seen. . .

And I know where they are going.

Yes! I have watched all 36 episodes of HBO’s Treme — some of them more than once including the commentary and music notes. The program is that good at portraying New Orleans.

The show ran from 2010 to 2013 and chronicled the lives of New Orleans residents upon their return to the city after Hurricane Katrina. And the show’s creators, producers and writers nailed it. The show is well regarded in New Orleans as having captured the unique and diverse culture and character of the city–both the good and the not so good.

Treme focused on the lives of musicians. Wendell Pierce, with cap, plays a trombonist struggling to make ends meet. He's marching with Rebirth Brass Band in this show and his trombone was played by Rebirth's Stafford Agee.
Treme focused on the lives of musicians. Wendell Pierce, with cap, plays a trombonist struggling to make ends meet. He’s marching with Rebirth Brass Band in this scene from the show and his trombone was played by Rebirth’s Stafford Agee.

Unfortunately, the show wasn’t sufficiently well regarded beyond the city (at least at the time) so no new episodes are being made. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably already understand the disconnect between being good and being popular. A theme that Treme also explores.

There’s lots of reasons to love this show, the main one for me is the music. There’s lot of New Orleans music in it. Literally hundreds of New Orleans-based musicians participated in its filming. Some of them even acted.

Yesterday, I pulled up the full cast listing of the show on IMDB and did a search for “self” and “selves” as in people and bands portraying themselves. I found over 250 listings. While some of the people playing themselves were politicians, chefs, writers, community activists and Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs, most of them were musicians.

The show featured literally hundreds of musicians. Some well known such as Dr. John (Mac Rebennak)
The show featured literally hundreds of musicians. Some well known such as Dr. John.

Some are well known like Dr. John, Fats Domino, Trombone Shorty and Irma Thomas. Others are not but should be such as Aurora Nealand, John Boutte, Tom McDermott, and Kermit Ruffins.

Several of the fictional characters are musicians attempting to make a living. One is a journeyman trombonists, played by Wendell Pierce, struggling to find gigs so he can pay rent and child support. Two others busk on the street and are learning the New Orleans style of music.

Throughout the series, the viewer is treated to music venues such as Tipitina’s, House of Blues, Blue Nile, Spotted Cat, and Snug Harbor and the music you hear on the show is recorded in situ. What you see is truly what you hear

In many cases, the musicians simply perform, either in the background or as a part of the plot. In other cases though, they deliver lines from a script or, in the case of Dr. John, ad lib. It’s a wonderful blend of reality and fiction.

A bass player with Jon Cleary's group, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Williams did quite a bit of acting and bass playing on the show.
A bass player with Jon Cleary’s group, The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Williams did quite a bit of acting and bass playing on the show.

Cornell Williams, a bass player who in real life performs with Jon Cleary, portrays a member of a band formed by Wendell Pierce’s character and helps another character recover from drug addiction.

A more bizarre blending of real life and fiction is the character Davis McAlary, who often supplies the show’s comic relief and social commentary. McAlary is a musician and an on again, off again deejay at WWOZ, which is a real  community radio station in New Orleans. His character was inspired by Davis Rogan who has released several albums of original songs and was a deejay for WWOZ. To really twist your brain, you will see in various Treme scenes the real Davis performing on piano backing up the fictional Davis. (Another character is patterned after Donald Harrison Jr. who is also seen regularly in the show.)

Clarence "Frogman" Henry in a scene with fictional character Davis McAlary, inspired by real musician Davis Rogan.
Clarence “Frogman” Henry in a scene with fictional character Davis McAlary, inspired by real musician Davis Rogan.

If you have a propensity to love New Orleans, its food, culture and music, watching Treme will deepen that love. If you know little about New Orleans but are interested, the show is a great place to start your education.  Well, subscribing to this blog (upper right hand corner) and listening to my show won’t hurt either.

Holiday videos set the festive mood

This is the first “festive” season for Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa so our collection of holiday music from New Orleans that I can play on the show is a bit limited. But the Internet is a vast resource of holiday cheer. So for this post, I’m sharing some of my favorite New Orleans holiday videos.

I can’t think of a better way to start then the dulcet tone of Aaron Neville doing “The Christmas Song.” 

Luke Winslow King, who released a new CD in 2014, sings in a video posted on the Times Picayune site, “Chanukah, Oh Chanukah” with his wife, Ester Rose King. 

Okay, time to crank it up, here’s Bonerama doing “Merry Christmas Baby.” 

What do you want from Santa? If you’re Kermit, you’d like your hometown football team, despite their 6-8 record, in the Superbowl in a “Saints Christmas.” 

A quarter century ago, Benny Grunch and the Bunch did the “12 Yats of Christmas,” a humorous reference to a unique New Jersey-style accent in New Orleans made famous by the novel Confederacy of Dunces (also see my take on New Orleans speak). Some of the New Orleans locales are no longer, but the visuals and song are still very funny. 

Regardless of the season, its not New Orleans unless you can do a little buck jumping in a second line. Take it away TBC Brass Band: 

Paul Sanchez captures a snoutful of holiday spirit with “I Got Drunk this Christmas.” 

I love the way New Orleans music can swing and soothe at the same time. Here’s Funky Butt Brass Band doing “Christmas Time in New Orleans.” 

I’ll close this post out with Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, doing “O Holy Night.”  May your holiday season be bright and happy.  Thank you for reading and listening.  Cheers. 

2014 New Orleans Music Buyer’s Guide – Part 2

Last week, I did a summary of 2014 New Orleans releases. The list got so long, I needed a second round. I’m not organized enough to put them in any order so there’s no shame, as will be proven when you read below, in being included in this second installment.

By the way, this is music I play on Sweeney’s GumboYaYa. (And I’d be thankful if you subscribed – Upper Right Corner )

You'll want to Linger Til Dawn with Debbie Davis' latest CD
You’ll want to Linger Til Dawn with Debbie Davis’ latest CD

Debbie Davis and the MesmerizersLinger Til Dawn showcases a voice that ranges from Broadway to Bawdy.. Her second CD offers a satisfying selection of songs backed up by accomplished musicians- Joshua Paxton on piano, Alex McMurray on guitar and Bonerama member Matt Perrine on sousaphone. Their interpretation of The Kink’s “Sunny Afternoon” is inspired.

Tommy Malone – His third solo album since the Subdudes, Poor Boy, delivers 11 more smooth tunes with Malone’s unique blend of blues and folk. A talented guitarist and songwriter (he does only one cover), Malone has a voice that’s easy to make friends with.

Nicholas Payton  – Numbers is what you make of it. You could call it chill music, but it’s far too engaging to allow your mind wander. I’ll get out of the way and repeat Payton’s description: “It’s a bed of sex wrapped in 500-thread count sonic sheets.”  Get that?

Fo ‘Reel Heavy Water bounced between our blues and soul shelf this year on the strength of Johnny Neel’s funky organ and C.P. Love’s vocals. The CD really takes off for me when bandleader Mark Domizio cuts loose with his guitar, particularly on Shake N Bake.

Dr. John – The Night Tripper left nothing to chance with this tribute to the immortal one, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch Terence Blanchard, James Andrews, Nicholas Payton (see above), and Wendell Brunious supply the chops with some welcome guest vocalists contributing a diverse array of interpretations of Louis Armstrong standards. You might not like every track but you won’t ask for your money back either.

The Roamin’ Jasmine – Another talented swing jazz band forged from the busking scene of New Orleans.  In its self-titled album, this merry band of six musicians at times conjure up an exotic polyphonic sound, while staying true to the NOLA tradition of strong solos and swaggering vocals.

Davis Rogan puts its all out there in his latest. His love, frustrations and of course his view of the world.
Davis Rogan puts its all out there in his latest. His love, frustrations and of course his view of the world.

Davis Rogan –  Davis Ex Machina is distinctly a New Orleans album–and not just because its performed with journeyman NOLA musicians. Mr. Rogan is no longer a school teacher struggling from performing at night and no longer the inspiration for a character of an HBO show.  But he does continue to write songs that take you deeply into his hometown, while still connecting to timely broader messages. Case in point, “Big Treezy” appears to be a rant on the dilution of  the”New Orleans” he loves yet ends as an allegory for immigration. Or maybe that’s just me reading too much between the lines. You tell me.

The Soul Rebels – No new CD this year BUT this kick-ass funk, R&B, hip-hop brass band has been offering a weekly track online for free throughout the fall, including three recorded this year–a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (Week 5) , a mash up of its “Nothin But A Party”and Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” (Week 6), and a never played again arrangement of Talib Kweli’s “I Try” (Week 7). Another reason not to want winter to begin.

Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue – Gal Holiday, the alter ego of singer Vanessa Niemann, fronts a genuine country dance hall band — part honky tonk, part redneck soul and solidly swing. They’re on my list to see live next time I’m in New Orleans, meanwhile I’ll keep enjoying Last to Leave, the band’s third CD.

Kelcy Mae – What do you call an album that wraps pop, country, and blues with solid arrangements, soulful lyrics and strong vocals? Before I started my New Orleans show, I was playing Half Light frequently on my open format morning show, without knowing she was a Louisiana native. crafting music from her home in New Orleans with the able assistance of Alex McMurray and Sam Cordts.

Benny Tuner delivers a solid blues and soul collection with his latest release, Journey.
Benny Tuner delivers a solid blues and soul collection with his latest release, Journey.

Benny Turner  –  Benny’s the real thing. He’s played guitar with his brother’s band, Freddy King and he was the band leader for Marva Wright for 20 years. With his third release, Journey, Turner plays and sings quintessential blues guaranteed to satisfy the music fan on your list.

Tuba Skinny – Owl Call Blues is a testament to this street band’s ability to find archival gems and make them fresh while also producing original music that sounds old-timey.  They’ve toured the world but you can still catch them busking in the Quarter.

Gregory GoodSavage Lands offers original and traditional songs in a Woody Guthrie wanderlust style that places you at the campfire with Good singing and playing guitar as if he were still a roustabout in his home state North Dakota. Now in New Orleans, his new album joins Milo Records’ growing stable of Americana and traditional folk recordings.

The Best of Eric Lindell” will only be available digitally starting December 16. “Live in Space.”

Even with this sequel, I’m far from covering everyone. For a more complete list, here’s Offbeat Magazine listing of 2014 releases by Louisiana artists.

I’ll be playing from this list and last week’s list on the next Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, Monday, December 15. Also, I’d appreciate if you subscribed to this blog (see upper right column).

Your 2014 New Orleans music buying guide – Part 1

Here’s my Holiday buying guide of 2014 releases for that special person in your life who digs music from New Orleans.  Don’t know anyone like that?  Yea, you do. (This is actually Part 1. I’ve added a Part 2.)


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One caveat: I’m still trying to  get KAOS on the distribution list of New Orleans artists. Thank you Basin Street Records, Alligator Records, Vizztone and Louisiana Red Hot Records (all amazing independent labels) for sending KAOS your new releases. If someone’s missing, here’s how they can hook up with my show. 

The Revivalists – – This seven member contemporary rock group with a New Orleans flair has been exciting audiences since 2007. The City of Sound double disc wisely includes a live set so you can get a feel for the band in action.

Hurray for Riff Raff – Alynda Lee Segarra may be from New York but she found her passion and honed her talent on the streets of New Orleans.  Small Town Heroes, the latest from this Americana songwriter puts a fresh spin on roots music.

The New Orleans Suspects nail it with their release Ourboros.
The New Orleans Suspects, with journeymen musicians from classic NOLA bands, make their own history with Ouroboros.

New Orleans Suspect – Third release is the charm for this textbook gumbo yaya band that draws direct influences from the Meters, Nevilles, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Radiators. Destined to make my overall top 10 list for 2014, Ouroboros means the Suspects no longer need to be compared to their previous projects.

Glen David Andrews – He’s Troy Andrews cousin but don’t expect Trombone Shorty despite Glen’s awesome trombone work. Instead you’ll get a double shot of gospel and soul in Redemption, growled out by an unrepentant preacher who has no intention of ceasing his prowling of nightclubs. Thank goodness.

Jimmy Carpenter – This blues saxman with Walter Wolfman Washington’s band on his resume’ hits full stride on his second solo release, Walk Away.  Carpenter offers up smooth, swingy blues with wonderful touches that make it clear where he calls home.

Ingrid Lucia – If you only know her wonderful version of “Zat You Santa Claus,” Living the Life is your opportunity to fall deeply in love with this voice, starting with her opening track, “Do You Remember Walter.”  We didn’t get this album at KAOS but I’ve gradually been buying tracks, like “Put the Radio On,” since she released this album.

Royal Southern Brotherhood Cyril Neville’s vocals complement this royal group of southern blues artists (Devon Allman, Yonrico Scott, Charlie Wooten and Mike Zito). Another entry for my top ten list,  HeartSoulBlood magically fuses blues to soul and R&B. Speaking of magic, Magic Honey was Cyril’s solo release this year.

Lena Prima comes home in body and spirit with Starting Something.
Lena Prima comes home in body and spirit with Starting Something.

Lena Prima is living testament to writer Chris Rose’s posit that “New Orleans girls never live anywhere else and even if they do, they always come back.”  Starting Something tracks the return of the prodigal daughter of Louis Prima to New Orleans. The more you listen, the more you’ll be delighted she came home.

Henry Butler – Brilliantly paired with New York trumpeter Steven Bernstein, Henry Butler demonstrates his virtuosity on piano while providing something for almost every Jazz taste on Viper’s Drag.

Louis Prima Jr. – Lena’s little brother demonstrates how to make swing and rock and roll relevant and hip in the 21st Century. With Blow,  Louis Junior goes his own way without straying too far from his pop’s tree. He and his band are not NOLA based but the album provides more than a passing nod to the city where he first connected with music.

The Last Hombres Odd Fellows Rest is a product of a band that has been rambling about for over a decade until the drummer settled down in New Orleans and invited the band to bunker down and find their collective muse. Combine the pedal steel of The New Riders of the Purple Sage with songwriting reminiscent of Tom Petty and throw in some tasteful Hot 8  Brass Band and you have a CD that gets better with every spin.

Flow Tribe – Self described as “bizarrely irresistable,” this funk rock band of six genuine NOLA hipsters (with birth certificates to prove it) give you a taste of what its like to see them live with five upbeat studio tracks on Alligator White. (See if you can catch their reference to what’s been described as the best dive bar in New Orleans.)

Rockabilly does quite capture the adventure that Rory Danger and the Dangers Dangers offer in The Age of Exploration.
“Rockabilly” does not quite capture the adventure that Rory Danger and the Dangers Dangers set listeners on in The Age of Exploration.

Rory Danger & the Danger Dangers  The perfect gift for the historian/adventurer on your list, Age of Exploration is the first release of this New Orleans rockabilly group. This Shackleton-themed concept album is largely the product of hardworking reeds-woman Aurora Nealand.  Another CD that hasn’t found its way to KAOS, I’ve only heard the two tracks I’ve purchased online but I want more.

The Iguanas – This year brought us, Juarez, the eighth album by a venerable New Orleans group that has been keeping dancers happy by blending Latin styles with New Orleans groove. If you have ever seen them live, say at Rock ‘N’ Bowl, you know what I’m talking about.

Billy Pierce and Friends – Fine slide blues made exceptional on Take Me Back to the Delta by his “friends,” notably Sonny Landreth, Jimmy Carpenter, Waylon Thibodeaux and the guys who put the Bone in Bonerama (Craig Klein, Mark Mullins and Greg Hicks). It’s not all New Orleans music but by the time you get to “Give Me A Dollar,” it won’t matter.

Marcia Ball – She may be from Texas but she has her NOLA residency card for reasons that are amply supplied by The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man. How does she do it?

Rebirth Brass Band – Erasing all doubt that they could top their grammy winning Rebirth of New Orleans album of 2012, these guys did that and more with Move Your Body.  After 31 years of playing all night gigs and second lining, Rebirth is doing their most entertaining work.  Want to loosen up a boring party, play the track HBNS.  Oh yea! (A no brainer for my top 10)

Wow!  So much music and I’ve got more to write about and play. I’ve written Part II to this guide. I’ll be playing only new music December 8 and 15, from 10 a.m. to noon, KAOS 89.3 FM, Olympia.

(If you missed December 8, here is the playlist.)