Top 10 Favorite 2020 Records from New Orleans

This week’s show is a look (and listen) back at the great music made during hard times this year. You’ll hear at least two and usually three tracks from each of my top 10 favorite releases this year. (But hey, they’re all great so check out my annual summary.) You’ll also hear a few band voices such as Matt Perrine (Nightcrawlers), Craig Klein (Vipers and Nightcrawlers), and Abigail Cosio (Bon Bon Vivant).

New Orleans NightcrawlersAtmosphere  – First record in 11 years for this funky brass band and it nails a Grammy nomination. No surprise given the collective talent of these nine musicians with a love for creating innovative music based on the New Orleans brass and second line tradition. At about three-fourths through the show, you’ll hear Matt Perrine talk about what makes the Nightcrawlers unique. Also, the show opens with “The Lick” and here’s the five-hour video that I mention in the show.

Shake ’em Up Jazz BandThe Boy in the Boat – Lots to enjoy with this late 2019 release, including Chloe Feoranzo‘s clarinet and Marla Dixon’s trumpet but what sets this record apart from the many other excellent New Orleans swing releases is the singing. From Haruka Kikuchi’s rendition of “Salty Dog” to the harmonizing on “Nuts to You,” this album never fails to make me smile.

Smoking Time Jazz Club Mean Tones and High Notes – This band made my top ten last year with Contrapuntal Stomp and this year’s record is even better with jaw-dropping performances that don’t get in the way of great song choices. Everybody needs to get vaccinated so I can go see this band live.

John “Papa” GrosCentral City – Former funkmaster has improved on his earlier excellent solo release, Rivers of Fire, with a tasty mix of original songs and covers, including John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me.” This a playful record made in a very New Orleans way.

Bon Bon Vivant – Dancing in the Darkness – When COVID hit the fan this year, Abigail Cosio and partner Jeremy Kelley created community with fellow musicians and fans through heartfelt and continuously improving live music feeds. Meanwhile, they were waiting for the right time to spring this record of pandemic prescient songs. I’m so glad to be dancing, even if the “Ship is Sinking.” Near the end of this show, Abigail introduces her song “This Year.”

New Orleans Jazz VipersIs There a Chance for Me  – For nearly two decades, this band has helped defined the Frenchmen Street music scene with a swing sound in which every member of the band takes turns shining and singing. Lots of songs about love, making it just that much more fun to grab your partner and show off your footwork. Trombonist Craig Klein gets on the show midway through to introduce the title track which has a fascinating history

Sierra Green & the Soul MachineSierra Green & the Soul Machine – Came out December of last year and by February, Offbeat Magazine recognized her as Emerging Artist of the Year. This record will make you hope that COVID is just a temporary setback. We need her music.

Alex McMurray –Lucky One  – McMurray is a musical chameleon capable of rock and rock steady, sea shanties and swing. But at his core, and quite evidence in this record particularly, is a maturing storyteller whose voice delivers droll, yet heartfelt, introspection.

Paul SanchezI’m a song, I’m a story, I’m a ghost  – Like McMurry who he partners with in The Write Brothers, Sanchez delivers heartfelt songs with a voice to match. His duet on “Walking in Liverpool” alone is worth the album.

Colin Lake Forces of Nature – Apparently, these songs were recorded before Lake and his wife sold their New Orleans home, bought a sailboat and began a life of itinerant Caribbean sailors. And yet, the vibe of the album manages to capture a reflective, meditative mood with themes more relevant than ever.

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Gumbo YaYa’s Top 10 New Orleans Records of 2019

This year’s top 10 selections run a range of New Orleans music with jazz, brass band, blues, R&B, Latin rhythms and African beats. And for lagniappe, you’ll meet my sons who extended their Christmas visit home to include hanging out with me in the studio when we aired this show on Boxing Day. (Just click the sideways arrow below to get started.)

Me with Riley and Devlin in the KAOS air studio.

Today’s show features selections from the 10 records I enjoyed playing the most this year. But the real treat for me was being in the studio with my son’s Riley and Devlin. As always, I edited this version of the program by removing KAOS announcements. So some of the freewheeling conversation is lost but I did manage to keep some of our chatter in. The show also airs in Bellingham on community radio station KMRE on Friday nights.

The show starts with “World Without Music by the To Be Continued Brass Band. Below are brief descriptions of my favorite records for this year.

To Be Continued Brass Band – TBC II – This band has a history that IS New Orleans. And they seem to be making it on their own terms. No label. No Website. No liner notes or anything but a logo on their CD. Lots of friends help out though including J’Wan Boudreaux (Cha Wa), Glen David Andrews, DJ Action Jackson and Erion Williams (Soul Rebels).

Kid Eggplant And the Melatauns – Big Trouble in Little Chalmette – Can you say “Party Record!” Listen to your vegetables, they’re good for you. I can’t believe my luck in stumbling across this record. It’s a creative mix of R&B, doo-wop, blues slide (with frog sounds), and retro 80’s rocks (“snip snip”).

Ecirb Muller’s Twisted Dixie – What Had Happened Was. . . – Dr. Brice Miller, of Mahogany Brass Band fame, has created a time machine and a mythical savant to transport the hipness of Louis Armstrong and New Orleans’ early jazz days into the funkified vibe of today. Each song is introduced with a story using the opener “What Had Happened Was. .” I’m so delighted to introduce you to one of the greatest . . .

Smoking Time Jazz Club – Contrapuntal Stomp – The band lives up to its name with 16 tracks of traditional jazz numbers that can heat up the dance floor. This journeymen band of talented musicians do more than revive; they reinvigorate. If the only thing this record did was introduce me to Earl “Snakehips” Tucker, it would still be on my top 10. (if you go to the link, be sure to catch at least half of the two-minute video of this amazing dancer.)

Jazz Fest: The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – Released by Smithsonian Folkways in honor of the festival’s 50th year, this five CD set offers a historic sampling of the diverse music styles that have graced the many Jazz Fest stages over the years – focusing on the local artists who have made his festival so exceptional. A lot of care was taken to showcase the sweep of talent that has graced the dozen or more stages of the festival during the last half century.

Leyla McCalla – The Capitalist -Her third release, proficient in Haitian creole, French, banjo, guitar and cello, she continues the city’s tradition of creatively blending and bending musical genres while continuing to creatively community her message of social and economic justice. Plus she’s got a wonderful voice.

Craig Klein sings and performs with Bonerama.

Bonerama – Bonerama Plays Zeppelin – Zeppelin with New Orleans funk and rhythms. It’s a reverent yet original adaptation of the band’s hits except with trombones as the lead voice and Matt Perrine’s magical sousaphone handling the bass line.  Be sure to catch “Heartbreaker” where Perrine defies gravity with his instrument.

Alexey Marti – Mundo – This Havana-born and New Orleans-based percussionist second release showcases his 15 original songs which include samba, bossa nova, ballad, and salsa — demonstrating new depths to this highly respected and in-demand musician. His record features musicians from New York, Spain and Cuba and flows smoothly through your ears like a morning cup of cafecito.

Bamboula 2000 – Cuba to Congo Square – For a quarter century, this band has been keeping the spirit of Congo Square alive. If you’re searching for the connection between New Orleans jazz rhythms and Africa, this latest release will help you find it it with rhythm’s from djembe, congas, talking drums, bata, atumpan, shekere, dun dun, and fontonfrom. 

Smoky Greenwell – Blues and the Power of Peace – Holding down the blues end of this year’s list is journeymen New Orleans musician Smoky Greenwell. This is the perfect apology gift for going ballistic on your Trump-voting relative during the holidays. The latest record by this New Orleans blues harmonica (and saxophone) player strikes enough of a conciliatory note without surrendering a single political point. Get out and vote, baby!

Gumbo YaYa 2018 – Top 10 CDs of the Year

My list of top ten releases from New Orleans is based on my experience as the host of Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, a Northwest community radio show that features New Orleans and other Louisiana music. To see a larger list of releases, check out my 2018 summary. This show features two tracks from each of the top 10 releases.

Bon Bon VivantLive At The New Orleans Jazz Museum –  This original group features sweet sister harmonies, a genre-bending style and a clear affection for New Orleans history performed before the perfect live audience.  This is a group to watch and you can, very easily because they perform live in New Orleans regularly.

Riverside Jazz Collective: Stomp Off, Let’s Go – Recorded at the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music by New Orleans pros who can  be heard regularly around town, particularly at The Bombay Club. This album features gently time-worn “songs that are melodically and emotionally durable.”  

Ivan Neville and Cris JacobsNeville Jacobs – A magic combination formed from a post-Jazz Fest card game where New Orleans funk and soul meets Baltimore rock and blues.  The chemistry is so solid, I listen to this CD with the hope that there will be a second one.

Cha WaSpyboy – Waiting for the next generation to pick up the mantle for The Wild Magnolias (except with a strong brass sound ) Look no further then this second release of this millennial group that has the fire!  Grammy nominated too.  “Get On Out Of the Way” 

Michot’s Melody Makers: Blood Moon – Lost Bayou Ramblers’ co-founder Louis Michot stretches the boundaries of Cajun music to his heart and my ears content with this project. I get calls from listeners wanting to know more when I play from this CD — and for good reason.

Helen GilletHelkiase– On the surface, Gillet and her music may seem far afield of what you might expect out of New Orleans. But this French and English singing cellist has been embedded in the city for most of her professional life. Her latest project can be edgy, melodic, soothing and tense.  Check out her KAOS studio performance  and interview from this summer

Jon Batiste:  Hollywood Africans – He may be world famous as the late night show bandleader but Batiste is more importantly a world-class musician with some powerful music to share, In this very personal release, he offers up originals with a fresh look at a couple standards. His reverent timing invites the listener to slow down and listen “with all you got, . . .don’t stop.”

Gal HolidayLost & Found – After 14 years in the vanguard of the New Orleans country music scene, Gal Holiday — aka Vanessa Neuman — and her Honky-Tonk Revue know how to deliver authentic old-time Patsy Cline style country. And while her band is solid, Vanessa’s voice is the star of the show.

Jonathon LongJonathon Long –  His third release is the charm. He dropped the “Boogie” from his name and added a lot of himself in his singing and songwriting. This self-titled album produced by Samantha Fish and featuring muscular guitar work and soulful, personal lyrics represents a new addition to Southern Rock.

Jon ClearyDyna-Mite – If you’ve been waiting for Cleary’s full band follow up to his 2016 Grammy win, wait no more!  With two more songs and a wider range (including a reggae-inflected song), Dyna-Mite blows away his Grammy-worthy earlier release.

I also play a track from Ever More Nest — Kelcy Mae’s latest project which was a close contender for being part of the top 10 list.