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 Music Buying Guide 2020

Be good to musicians and your friends’ ears by giving music this holiday. All new music on today’s show creating a guide to your music shopping. Many of these bands offer multiple formats and/or use Bandcamp. (Finding out how people listen to music is the hardest part about giving music these days but is it any tougher than guessing someone’s sweater size?)

You’ll find links to the bands, the name of their new record and the song I play in the same order of how you’ll hear them on the show. What are you waiting for? Get the show started and grab your credit card. Hey, also, check the following week show where I do a different mix of mostly the same releases.

Kid Eggplant and the Trad MelataunsKid Eggplant and the Trad Melatauns Traditional style, but original songs with contemporary themes – “Blue Tooth Fairy”

Shake ’em Up Jazz BandThe Boy in the Boat – Swinging jazz by excellent musicians with vocals that make this record shine. “Say Si Si”

John “Papa” GrosCentral City – Former funkmaster gets playful in a very New Orleans way. “Please Don’t Bury Me.”

Smoking Time Jazz Club Mean Tones and High Notes – Jaw-dropping performances don’t get in the way of great song choices. Friction

Bon Bon Vivant – Dancing in Darkness – Abigail Cosio and partner Jeremy Kelley create community with fellow musicians and fans and emerge from the Year of COVID better than ever. “Dancing in Darkness” (radio edit)

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. “Evenin'”

New Orleans Johnnys –  Outta Ya Mind – Rocking songs with a saxophone swing and lyrics embedded in New Orleans. “Outta Ya Mind”.

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 (The Iguanas and Otro). “Nature Boy”

Lena Prima The Lena Prima Big Band, Live in Concert – As early records attest, Lena can write songs. She also can front a big band and honor her father’s legacy in a live Las Vegas show. “5 Months, 2 Weeks, 2 Days, Jump, Jive ‘an Wail.”

Bobby Rush Rawer than Raw – Bobby Rush demonstrates once again how to create amazingly simple yet deeply moving blues. “Smokestack Lightning”

New Orleans NightcrawlersAtmosphere  – First record in 11 years for this funky brass band and it nails a Grammy nomination. Don’t’ think; buy it. “Gentilly Groove”

Tuba SkinnyQuarantine Album: Unreleased B-Sides – You know the band’s talented when the rejects of three previous albums can sound this good. Available for download only on its bandcamp page. “Any Kind of Man”

The New Orleans Swinging GypsiesHot Boudin –  Another fine example of how New Orleans bands can put a fresh spin on a classic style. “Baby Brown”

Debbie Davis & Josh Paxton – Interesting Times – Second time around for this inspired duo. Davis’ velvet voice backed by Paxton’s sensitive piano touch that steals the show when unleashed, as in the opening track. “Will It Go Around in Circles.”

Jason MarsalisLive  – Recorded at Little Gem Saloon, Jason dazzles on the vibraphone. “At the House, In Da Pocket”

Charlie Halloran and the Tropicales – Shake the Rum – This hip trombonist/bandleader wears Calypso well, particularly when John Boutte sings. Oh, and he has a holiday record too. “Dorothy”

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. “Where We Gonna Go.”

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. Then it all shut down. Damn COVID! “Get Up to Get Down”

Alex McMurray: Lucky One and also Road Songs – Through hard work, exploration and prolific creativity, Murray has weaved his songs into the New Orleans music canon. “Little Mercy”

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. “After Math”

Slugger -Eclipse (EP)  – This funk, jazz group seemed to be hitting stride when COVID crashed down. They also released a live record Uncut Buzz from Maple Leaf Bar. “Praise Break”

Paul SanchezI’m a song, I’m a story, I’m a ghost  – Talented songwriter with a heart rendering voice and songs to match. “Great Wide Open World”

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. “Baionne”

The Abitals Hot Box – Perhaps if the Fab Four had come from Abita Springs, Louisiana and Lennon had played an accordion, they might have sounded like this. Original songs. “1000 Times”

Cowboy Mouth: Open Wide (EP) – Yes, the band still performs and records and these five tracks are an excellent edition to the band’s 30 year catalogue. “Oh Toulouse!”

Jack Sledge: Notes of a Drifter – Brooklyn rocker moves to New Orleans for the Gulf Coast experience. He’s not embedded yet but its still fun.

Sonny LandrethBlack Top Run– This studio release is what fans have come to expect – distinctive vocals and guitar. What one YouTube fan described as an eargasm. “The Wilds of Wonder”

Dr. Michel WhiteLive -Hear this accomplished clarinetist stretch out on Canal Street Blues, Summertime and others. “Caribbean Girl”

Shamarr Allen – Quarantine and Chill – Early on, Shamarr put a smile on quarantined faces with this sweet song and video. Show me your footwork!

The Write BrothersInto the Sky  – Second release by this collective of songwriters. This one barely got made given the health decline and death of Spencer Bohren. You won’t hear it on today’s show cause I haven’t gotten the CD yet. But subscribe and stay tuned. Louisiana Music Factory has just sent it off to me. Meanwhile, here is the story of the record’s making.

A Trumpeter, Trombonist, Guitarist and Keyboardist Walk into . . .

Encore performance of this early spring 2020 show featuring messages from NOLA musicians. Airs again on KAOS and KMRE this week.

This week’s Gumbo YaYa features the voices and music of Marla Dixon, Craig Klein, Billy Iuso and John “Papa” Gros plus a birthday anniversary and more. Go ahead and play the show which starts with a live Wild Magnolia performance in recognition of the 2020 JazzFest that didn’t happen.

Each week, I’ve been including recorded messages from New Orleans musicians and playing a set of their music as a way for me and listeners of the show to learn a bit more about them. What comes out clear from this week’s set of artists is how passionate they are about their profession and the music they make.

Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band – Marla Dixon is second from right

After the Wild Magnolia song, we hear from Marla Dixon (at about 8 and half minutes in) who sings and plays trumpet for the Shotgun Jazz Band and the all-female Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band which has played festivals in Europe. You’ll hear her perform with both those bands, including a live performance at the Dew Drop Dance & Social Hall (not to be confused with the old Central City Dew Drop Inn) plus a lagniappe spin of her request, Captain John Handy’s “Panama.” I unfortunately got mixed up and did not play her request “Streets of the City” so I will get to that one in my next show. Dixon is fully embedded in New Orleans and its music scene but Northwest listeners attuned to Canadian speak will recognize her origins when she pronounces “out” as in “out-choruses.”

Craig Klein is very much a native of the city. A former member of Harry Connick Jr.’s big band, he formed Bonerama with Mark Mullins over 20 years ago but is also on a long list of other recordings and involved in a string of New Orleans bands. He will tell you a bit about it (starting around the 26 minute mark), as well as fill you in on the New Orleans Nightcrawlers’ latest release Atmosphere and the New Orleans Jazz Vipers new record, Is There a Chance for Me. You’ll hear tracks from both plus the title track from Bonerama’s Hot Like Fire.

Billy Iuso on guitar performing with Bonerama flanked by trombonists Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein.

Billy Iuso caught my attention at the 2015 Freret Street Festival — an event I attended for two reasons. First, to check out my old elementary school — the former Our Lady of Lourdes on the corner of Freret and Napoleon — and to see Bonerama live for the first time. As luck would have it, we got to the Bonerama stage early and caught Iuso’s show. His songs have a way of pulling me in and holding me. You’ll hear his greeting at about the 52 minute mark followed by tracks from four of his records, including one under the name of Brides of Jesus.

John “Papa” Gros was the bandleader of the funk group Papa Grows Funk which held down the Monday slot at the Maple Leaf for a decade. When the band broke up, funk fans all over the world were heartbroken. And the story of the band was retold in a highly entertaining documentary called “Do U Want It.” Now, Gros is doing his own thing but years of helping others with their gigs and recordings pays off with quality support in his latest record – Central City. Starting at the 73 minute mark, Gros talks about his line up and the origins of one of its tracks “Old Joe’s Turkey” – a song you’ll hear along with another track from that new release. I also spin one from his previous solo effort Rivers on Fire and I couldn’t resist including one from his funkier days, “Pass It!”

Near the end of the show, I celebrate the birthday anniversary of Bobby Marchan, recognize the passing of Big Al Carson and close with the Funky Meters performing live at a previous JazzFest.

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Your 2016 New Orleans Music Buying Guide – Part One

Here’s this year’s survey of New Orleans music releases that deserve your attention. This is music I played on my radio show Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  (By the way, so many release, here’s Part Two )

Eric LindellWhen I listen to Matters of the Heart, I imagine an artist on a serious Zoloft high. When I first started playing this CD on KAOS, it seemed liked every track bubbled over with happy feelings and love. But there’s deep stuff as well on this release that harken back to Lindell’s blues days. This is a strong release that just makes me wish even more he would break out of his habit of only touring sunny places and get his happy butt up to the Northwest.

Honey Island Swamp Band When Hurricane Katrina stirred a serious dose of New Orleans talent into our national musical melting pot, four New Orleans musicians found themselves in San Francisco and formed this band. Demolition Day is its second full-length album and the first recorded in New Orleans — under the direction of North Mississippi All-Stars Luther Dickinson, who also co-produced Lindell’s release.  The CD captures the essence of the band’s jam band live personae while delivering tight singular songs that define the band’s self-described genre “Bayou Americana.”

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John “Papa” Gros

John “Papa” Gros –  After  over a dozen years fronting Papa Grows Funk, which anchored the Monday slot at the famed Maple Leaf Bar, this standout keyboardist has produced a solo release that reflects the wide range of his talent and interests. River’s on Fire has it all: rock, funk, reggae, a love song, and a serious nod to mentor and New Orleans saint, Allen Toussaint. I hope new releases become an annual Papa ritual.

Benny Turner – With his fourth release, this veteran bluesman takes us back with a set of previously recorded but hard to find funky, blues numbers, including a  duet with Marva Wright, the powerhouse New Orleans blues and gospel singer who died in 2010. Turner played bass and managed Ms. Wright’s band for 20 years. What a treat it is to hear her voice again on “Pity on this Lovesick Fool.”  The CD’s title track “When She’s Gone” is about another important woman in Turner’s life, his mother

Dee-1 – As a card-carrying AARP member, I’m not qualified to review rap. But David Augustine Jr., who performs under the name Dee-1, doesn’t care because this inclusive artist erects a big enough tent for us all to be in and listen to his stories. Originally attracted by the humor he expresses in paying off his student loan (Sallie Mae Back) and his love for his aging but paid for car (NO Car Note), I find myself drawn to the many other fine tracks on his 2016 mixtape Slingshot David– released on the heels of the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge this summer.

Leyla McCallaSinging in Haitian Creole, French and English and accompanied by her own haunting cello playing, Leyla McCalla digs deep into the roots tying Haiti and New Orleans together. A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey is an exploration of the oppressed and the oppressor and an excellent follow up to her previous release where she put music to the words of Langston Hughes.

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The Roamin’ Jasmine

The Roamin’ JasminTaylor Smith, leader and bass player of The Roamin’ Jasmine, once again demonstrates with his band’s second release his genius at fresh, upbeat arrangements of obscure blues, jazz, rockabilly and R&B tunes. An amazing achievement for this young New Orleans transplant. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that his five original numbers, including the title track Blues Shuffle Heart,  are quite good.

Lena Prima –  Blessed with a strong voice and famous pedigree, Lena Prima and the Lena Prima Band demonstrate that hard work doesn’t hurt either. This tight group has provided countless evenings entertaining Carousel Room patrons at the Monteleone Hotel. And that experience pours out in the nearly solid hour of hip-swinging numbers on Live at the Dew Drop Jazz & Social Hall. Play this release, close your eyes and transport yourself.

Meschiya LakeShe is such a kick. In fact, you and your partner will be kicking up your heels on the living room rug every time you play Bad Kids Club, released December of last year but close enough to count in this year’s summary. Looking for the slow number, no problem. Her songs are listed by beats per second. This release showcases a singer and band arriving at peak performance.

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Cha Wa

Cha Wa  -. With vocals by Creole Wild West Spyboy Honey Banister and J’Wan Boudreaux,  grandson of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Funk ‘n’ Feathers is helping to expand the audience for the music of the Mardi Gras Indian — a truly original cultural tradition in New Orleans. The release got a lot of play not only on my show but also other KAOS world music programs in our shared weekday time block.  If you’re familiar with Mardi Gras Indian songs, you’ve heard it all before.  But not quite this way.

Roddie Romero & the Hub-City All-StarsI have not been totally faithful to New Orleans on my radio show this year and this group is one reason why I’ve been reaching upriver to Lafayette for additional tunes. The product of boyhood friends Roddie Romero and keyboardist/songwriter Eric Adcock, Gulfstream makes rural Louisiana come so alive you can smell the salt tang of the bayou just by listening to it. (Breaking NewsGulfstream is a 2017 Grammy nominee for Best Regional Roots Music Album. Here’s more about the album.

Darcy Malone and the Tangle –  Still Life has a retro Alt Band feel with some fun twists . Clearly, the Tangle is not your typical Frenchmen Street band. But it could only happen in New Orleans. Darcy is the daughter of The Radiator’s guitarist Dave Malone, and the saxophone and keyboards that keep things interesting are by LSU music grad Jagon Eldridge. Here’s your proof that the NOLA music scene continues to grow.

Cowboy Mouth: Speaking of which, this band has been challenging the New Orleans music stereotype for 25 years. The Name of the Band Is… provides new recordings of nine of the band’s regular live show songs and three fresh tracks.The band’s strength continues to be drummer Fred LeBlanc’s sharp and clear vocals that showcases the lyrics, which you want to hear, while still allowing you to rock out.cowboy.jpg

I’ll be back next week with more releases from 2016. Until then, catch my show. Oh, and here’s the podcast of one of the 2016 Review shows.