This is my fourth annual Buying Guide to encourage you to give the gift of music. To hear the music click on this week’s show and then read about it below. (Here’s Part 2 of the guide).
Links to all the bands are provided so you can purchase from the source. There’s no pecking order to my presentation (I’ll present my top 10 at the end of the month). Also, while there is a Part 2 coming, this list is far from comprehensive. Let me know if I’ve left something out you like.
Bonerama -Trombone Shorty was 12-years-old when two trombonists from Harry Connick Jr.’s band decided to move to the front of the stage and create the brass-funk-rock group, Bonerama. With their seventh release, Hot Like Fire, Craig Klein and Mark Mullins joined by a third trombonist, a sousaphone, guitar and drums, are clearly in their element jamming on original tunes as well as a Radiohead cover and Allen Toussaint’s Basic Lady. Learn more about this cool band, check out my interview with Klein and Mullins.
Stanton Moore – One of the best drummers in the business, Moore pulled together an all-star cast (Trombone Shorty, Nicholas Payton, Maceo Parker, Donald Harrison Jr. and Cyril Neville to name a few) in paying homage to Allen Toussaint with With You In Mind. Whether you like Toussaint or not (what?!), you’re going to dig this album from “Here Come the Girls” with Trombone Shorty to Toussaint’s autobiographical “Southern Nights” with Wendell Pierce reading, not singing, the lyrics.
The Deslondes – The band’s second release, Hurry Home, solidifies the Deslondes reputation as the premiere example of the New Orleans Americana scene. Despite its title, the album takes its time, meandering 13 songs with lyrics that linger in your mind and entice you to sing along. Why not? Four of the five band members sing as well.
Hot 8 Brass Band – A good brass band can get even the most stiff-limbed old man moving his hips. But what makes this venerable New Orleans brass band special is its great solos, unexpected twists and those sneaky covers you don’t recognize at first. From the band that has survived to see it all and gave the world the brass version of “Sexual Healing” comes On The Spot — essential to any brass band fan collection.
Tuba Skinny – With its eighth release Tupelo Pine, Tuba Skinny has moved from the streets into institutional status in New Orleans. This band has a deep repertoire of Prohibition and Depression era tunes performed with entertaining and reverent orchestration. If you’re looking for something special for a traditional jazz fan, you can’t go wrong with this band that has won its audience one street performance at a time. See Pops Coffee for a far more detailed review.
Smoking Time Jazz Club – Another street-hardened traditional jazz band that takes you back to another era, Smoking Time has a sultry quality fueled by the band’s mission statement embedded in its name The band started 2017 with a new release Ain’t We Fortunate and finishes the year with Take Your Time and Fly — they’re both excellent but the second one is strengthened by Sarah Peterson’s vocals.
Erica Falls – With HomeGrown, Erica Falls has demonstrated that hard work, grit and talent can pay off. At least it does for the listener. While this is her first full release, Fall has paid her dues singing with Allen Toussaint and Galactic and providing backing vocals in the studio for Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Marva Wright, and Bobby Charles — not to mention adding some sweet vocals to two tracks on Rebirth Brass Band’s last release. But HomeGrown is all hers — eight of the songs are her own composition. She’s soulful, funky, sweet. . .yea, I’m in love.
Naughty Professor – While Identity does not have a title track, its first two songs go right to the heart of the issue. The rhythmic “Mirror,” choruses with “Give people what they want” while the second track advises to “be what you want, do what you feel.” And that’s exactly how this jazz-funk sextet has rolled ever since emerging from the New Orlean’s Loyola jazz program in 2010. The band skillfully flows through soul, R&B and hip hop. But underlying it all is a strong jazz sensibility that keeps its fresh and unique. Now that’s an identity.
New Orleans Jazz Vipers – If you’ve visited Frenchmen Street, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to see the Vipers live. The swing jazz band has been a fixture there long before tourist knew to direct their cab to Frenchmen. “Live & Viperizin” captures the band at its most enigmatic with danceable numbers designed to draw you into the nightclub, except now you can get that live feeling at home.
Jon Cleary – With Live at Chickie Wah Wah, this master piano player follows up his grammy-award winning album featuring his funk group Monster Gentleman with an intimate solo performance recorded live at one of his favorite hometown venues. It’s just Cleary, his voice and his piano playing some of his favorites, including two from GoGo Juice, as well as some tasty R&B and soul numbers made famous by Smiley Lewis, Jessie Hill and Jessie Belvin. The only way you can beat this release is if you really catch him live at Chickie Wah Wah.
Sonny Landreth – This electric slide guitar master delivers a much-anticipated live acoustic set performed in his hometown Lafayette and for lagniappe, a second live set with his electric guitar. If you are fan of this tireless touring professional (he’s in Deming for the Mt. Baker Blues Festival in August 2018), you’ve heard these songs before but not like this. If not, Live at Lafayette is a great way to become a new fan.
Debbie Davis and Josh Paxton – There is a magic that derives from the alchemy of a pianist and vocalist who have performed regularly, particularly if they use their familiarity to push each other. Davis is a lifelong singer who, in addition to her own projects, performs with The Pfister Sisters. Josh Paxton, who is part of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, is clearly capable of tearing up the keyboards on inspired solos but lovingly wraps his performance around Davis’ voice. Vices and Virtues puts you in the room with these two creative professionals.
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes – The band’s website describes it best: “their irreverent funk is cut with rock riffs, a Gypsy/Klezmer flare, a Latin tinge courtesy of a hard hitting horn section, and a sense of humor.” Yea, you right. And Sketch is the band’s best release yet. I’m still pissed I can’t play “Fine Time” on the radio but I’ve definitely been playing the dozen other tracks that deliver soul, funk, reggae, and a power violin rock thing (“The Dragon”) that has garnered listener phone calls to the studio.
John Mooney – John Mooney is a hard act to catch. He has no website and his Facebook and wikipedia pages don’t list his latest CD, Truth of the Matter. But don’t let that stop you. Mooney’s voice and guitar playing are top flight but its the arrangements and the support he gets that should elevate this release to your shopping list. Ten songs with eight originals. Most are backed up by a rotating cast of star power keyboardists (Jon Cleary, John Gros and C.R. Gruver) usually on a Hammond B-3. And his use of male background singers on “Deal with Love” and “Push & Shove” enhance an already strong soul feeling to Mooney’s music.
Egg Yolk Jubilee – To celebrate 20 years of performing, Egg Yolk Jubilee has compiled a retrospective of a dozen previously released songs and three new ones in Crux of the Yolk. Yes, they are frenetic, irreverent, loud and pretty damn funny, but they also rock. The band provided the brass on Jello Biafra’s New Orleans Raunch All-Stars release a few years back. If you have a Frank Zappa fan on your shopping list, particularly if they like horns, literally blow them away with Egg Yolk Jubilee.
Sweet Crude – Like many indie acts from New Orleans, Sweet Crude’s music may not make its hometown roots obvious. Well, except that they sing a lot of their songs in French. “We are joining a small but fervent group of young Louisianians engaged in keeping the language relevant via art,” announces the band’s website. Soaring vocals (Mon Esprit in particular) and world rhythms place the band’s first full release, Creatures, above the large stack of alternative rock releases we get in the station.