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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Another Gift Guide Browse through 2020 NOLA Music

The 2020 crop of new releases out of New Orleans is worth a deeper dive for this week’s show, particularly since I’ve added a couple of new ones and included a short interview with members of Bon Bon Vivant.

As with last week, the bands and records are listed in the order played during the show which you can listen to while reading this by using the player below. Also each listing includes the name of the song played and links to their music (buy buy buy!)

Debbie Davis & Josh Paxton – Interesting Times – Their second release together featuring Davis’ velvet voice backed by Paxton’s scene-stealing piano. Provocative song choices for interesting times. “Swing Brother Swing”

The New Orleans Swinging GypsiesHot Boudin –  Literally a toe-tapping example of how talented New Orleans musicians can put a fresh spin on a classic style. “First Flight”

New Orleans NightcrawlersAtmosphere  – Their “Live at the Old Point Bar” sold me on New Orleans music. Now with their first record in 11 years, this loose funky brass band scores a Grammy nomination with tight, creative arrangements. “Big Bottom”

New Orleans JohnnysOutta Ya Mind – In the tradition of the New Orleans Suspects and the Radiators, the Johnnys invigorate New Orleans rock with saxophone swing and lyrics embedded in the city. “Good People”.

Roland Guerin– Grass Roots – Artful studio release (came out in 2019) by this bass player who has worked with Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Ellis Marsalis and George Benson. “Stick to the Basics”

Colin LakeForces of Nature – This Seattle native lives in New Orleans and continues to define his sound with this new record, fondly reminiscent of Eric Lindell while still being original. “Just Begun”

Bon Bon Vivant – Dancing in Darkness – Abigail Cosio and partner Jeremy Kelley create community this year with fellow musicians and fans and emerge from the Year of COVID better than ever. You’ll hear them briefly discuss their release and livestreaming after “Ship is Sinking.” Also hear “Hell or High Water” and “Die Young.” Also, I made a mistake on the day their Facebook livestream happens. You can see them live almost every SUNDAY at 5 p.m. (Left Coast Time) on Facebook, including from my own Facebook page.

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales – Shake the Rum – This hip trombonist/bandleader wears Calypso well. And you’ll learn to check the mirror next time you eat a whole mango. “Mango Vert”

Shake ’em Up Jazz BandThe Boy in the Boat – Swinging jazz by excellent musicians with vocals that make this record shine. As evidence, the harmonizing on “Nuts to You”

The Abitals Hot Box – Four good musicians and drinking buddies generating new music or Y’at savants plotting a new swamp pop invasion? A unique gift choice for the accordion fan on your list. “Leave Me Alone.”

Tuba Skinny – Quarantine Album: Unreleased B-Sides – You know the band is talented when the rejects of three previous albums is this good. Available for download only on its bandcamp page. “Spoonful”

Glen David Andrews – Live from my Living Room  -His trombone has been part of Lil Rascals, New Birth and Treme Brass Bands. Now literally from his living room to yours. “Treme Hideaway”

Smoking Time Jazz Club Mean Tones and High Notes – Jaw-dropping performances don’t get in the way of great song choices. This is an exceptional record worthy of gifting to any music fan of New Orleans jazz. The Breeze”

The Write BrothersInto the Sky  – Second release by this collective of songwriters that were originally conceived as a New Orleans version of The Highwaymen. This one barely got made given the health decline and death of Spencer Bohren. Here is the story of the record’s making. “Do It”

Putumayo Presents New Orleans Mambo -Putumayo’s nod to the “Spanish Tinge” of New Orleans music featuring the well-known (Dr. John and The Neville Brothers) and the should be well known (Los Po-Boy-Citos and Otro). “Jive Samba”

John “Papa” GrosCentral City – Former funkmaster sharpens his vocals and gets playful in a very New Orleans way. “Yeah Yeah Yeah”

Paul SanchezI’m a song, I’m a story, I’m a ghost  – Talented songwriter with a heart rendering voice and songs to match. “Mary Don’t Two Step”

Michot’s Melody Makers: Cosmic Cajuns from Saturn: Live from the Saturn Bar, New Orleans Lost Bayou Rambler Louis Michot’s journey into new Cajun music frontiers continues with December 2019 performance at the Saturn. “T’as vole mon traineau”

Colin LakeForces of Nature – I missed him in last week’s swing through these new releases. So he gets a well-deserved second listen. This time “Alajuela”

Lena Prima The Lena Prima Big Band, Live in Concert – As early records attest, Lena can write good songs. She also can front a big band and honor her father’s legacy in an entertaining live Las Vegas show. “Just a Gigolo (I Ain’t Got Nobody)”

New Orleans Jazz VipersIs There a Chance for Me  – If you can’t swing on Frenchmen Street, why not swing at home with the toast of Frenchmen Street. “Somebody Stole My Gal'”

Kid Eggplant and the Trad MelataunsKid Eggplant and the Trad Melatauns Traditional style, but original songs with contemporary themes – “Falto Besos”

The Write BrothersInto the Sky – Spencer Bohren fans will want this posthumously released record in their collection. He was only able to sing lead on this one song but his influence, including his son as producer, is felt throughout. “Every Highway”

Alex McMurray: Lucky One and also Road Songs – His guitar work lovingly wraps around Spencer Bohren’s voice in the previous song. Now you hear one from his solo project. On these two records, McMurray sings contemporary, universal stories such as “Dear Old Daddy” from Lucky One.

Charlie and the Tropicales – Celebrate the winter holiday in the tropics! Seven unique seasonal songs from Halloran’s calypso project (originally released in 2019). “Latitude 29”

Bobby Rush Rawer than Raw – Grammy Winner Bobby Rush demonstrates once again how to create amazingly simple yet deeply moving blues. “Don’t Start Me Talking”

Sierra Green & the Soul MachineSierra Green & the Soul Machine – Offbeat Magazine named her Emerging Artist of the Year. Then it all shut down. Damn COVID! “Wrong Wrong Wrong”

Cowboy Mouth: Open Wide (EP) – New Orleans rocking band continues a 30-year streak. “Kiss the Baby”

Dr. Michel WhiteLive -The live format allows this accomplished clarinetist to stretch out on Canal Street Blues, Summertime and others. “I Love You Too Much to Ever Leave You”

New Orleans songs set up the new year – 2019

Nothing like putting up a new calendar to feel the passage of time. Was 2018 a good year? What about 2019? Welcome to my musical reflection of this new year (first show of 2019) with amazing music from New Orleans. You can play it now while you finish reading

No matter how good my life is, it all seems hollow with our growing unhoused population, a gridlock country and a world that requires solutions built from collaboration rather than conflict. These thoughts guided my selections of songs.

Earl King kicks off the show with his “Make a Better World” followed by Lee Dorsey singing “Why Wait Until Tomorrow.” Later, Colin Lake performs his original song “The World Alive” followed by Tom Hambone’s “Faith” from his NOLA Sessions’ recording

The Radiators exhort us to “Never Let Your Fire Go Out” aided by The Neville Brothers “Wake Up” and Galactic’s “Action Speaks Louder than Words.”

“Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further” written and sung by Allen Toussaint with help from Elvis Costello seemed to fit right in at this point, along with “Street Symphony” by the Subdudes and an encore by Toussaint with “We’re All Connected.”

Carlo Ditto and Louie Ludwig songs take on complacency when it comes to war and Irma Thomas and James Booker close it off with “River is Waiting” and “Amen” respectively.

In between the above are appropriate songs by Dr. John, Helen Gillet, Paul Sanchez, the Iguanas, John Mooney, Mem Shannon, Marcia Ball and Ever More Nest.

I wish you a happy and fulfilling year. Stay engaged!