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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New Orleans Musicians Co-Host First Shelter-in-Place Show

This week’s show is a repeat of my first COVID lockdown show originally aired one year ago this week. This show featured messages from New Orleans musicians talking about how they were coping and introducing their music. Check it out!

The first original Gumbo YaYa show since the state’s shelter-in-place order ended my live broadcasts is aided greatly by the kindness of New Orleans musicians who sent me audio clips recorded from their shelter. You’ll hear their voices and their music when you click the sideways arrow below. If you keep reading, you’ll learn a bit more about these talented artists.

Dr. John’s “Locked Down” starts the show and I follow that up with a set dedicated to everyone who is having to get out there and work to ensure essential services. Preservation Hall Jazz Band does a lively version of “St. James Infirmary” followed by the original “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” with Huey “Piano” Smith & The Clowns. But please stay with the show at least to the 20 minute mark when you’ll get to meet Antoine Diel.

Antoine Diel

Born in Manila, Philippines but raised in California, Antoine Diel is a fixture in the New Orleans club scene with regular gigs (at least until recently) at the Spotted Cat, the Carousel Room at Hotel Monteleone and Buffa’s. He checks into the show after I play his beautiful rendition of “Dahil Sa Iyo” which he sings both in Tagalog and English (“Because of You”). You’ll then hear two cuts off his record On the Corner of Hope and New Orleans. Here’s his website where you can find more of his music and say hi to him.

Abigail Cosio of Bon Bon Vivant comes on next (about 35 minutes in). Her band plays infectious music (perhaps not the best description in a pandemic) that she writes. You’ll want to catch her regular Facebook feeds where she and fellow band member and partner Jeremy Kelley do live shows (with other remotely placed musicians) in very creative ways. You can support the band by buying their music but they are also directing tips to the Krewe of Red Beans project Feed the Frontline NOLA which according to the website is working to “feed hospital workers across New Orleans, employ out-of-work musicians/artists, and support locally-owned restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Carlo Nuccio, Joe Cabral and Alex McMurray performing at Atchafalaya Restaurant Sunday Brunch

Alex McMurray is the bard of New Orleans, detailing its deep crevices and taking us to places that tourist rarely frequent. He kicks off his set (after about 50 minutes into the show) with a journey to Hank’s Supermarket on St. Claude Avenue — not too far away from the Saturn and the Carnaval Lounge where he has on a semi-frequent basis assembled a mix of musicians to perform sea shanties under the moniker of the Valparaiso Men’s Chorus. He also has records featuring Rock Steady, vintage American folk music, and original songs by him and other well-regarded New Orleans songwriters (Write Brothers). But his most prolific and still active project is Tin Men featuring one of the best sousaphone players performing anywhere, Matt Perine, and Washboard Chaz Leary. I play one of their songs in Alex’s set. Here’s his website.

Robert Snow aka Kid Eggplant – I couldn’t believe my luck when I bought one of his records last year from Louisiana Music Factory on impulse just because I liked the cover. And it turned out to be great and one of my favorites of the year. How often does that happen? (Never seems to work with wine) Robert is a native of New Orleans and hearing him talk takes me back to my days in the 60’s as a kid in New Orleans. Yes, he goes by the name of Kid Eggplant and his band is the Melatauns usually with with an adjective like “swinging” or “mighty.” While he’s adept at podcasts and live Facebook shows, for some reason he doesn’t have a website. Make it a shelter in place project, Robert! Look for these key words on your favorite streaming service “Kid Eggplant,” “Melatauns” and “Abitals” and of course you can order his music from your local independent record shop.

Kelcy Mae

I have two of Kelcy Mae‘s solo albums (she has three) and I play them regularly on my show. But you’ll hear Kelcy introduce (about an hour and 20 minutes in) her latest project, Ever More Nest, on this show. She also has her own website where I learned she was born on St. Patrick’s Day in Shreveport, Louisiana. She came to New Orleans to attend university and has pretty much stayed, creating music like you’ll hear during her set.

The last musician to co-host the show is a Jack Sledge, a New York native now in New Orleans and he introduces his latest release. Here’s his website.

I finish the show with a set of music by Ellis Marsalis, Jr. who died last week from what appears to be complications of COVID-19. Marsalis was not just a great musician and composer. He was a teacher (Harry Connick Jr. and Donald Harrison to name two students) . He was a mentor and father (Wynton, Delfeayo, Branford and Jason). He was a major force in the New Orleans community, creating affordable housing through the Musician’s Village.

I’m going to try to coax a few more New Orleans musicians to send radio drops for the next show. Sonny Landreth already has. So consider subscribing and stay healthy and we’ll talk again soon.