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 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.

All-Female Gumbo YaYa for 2020

It’s another all-female show this week featuring some new artists as well as, for me at least, some newly rediscovered. You can listen to it now or whenever you wish from the player below. (Show airs in Olympia Thursday mornings and Bellingham Friday evenings)

New artists on this show for me include Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band, Topsy Chapman, Elizabeth Joan Kelly, the Boswell Sisters, Sierra Green, Tiffany Pollack and Carsie Blanton. As usual, I include songs by Marva Wright, Lena Prima, Irma Thomas and the Original Pinettes Brass Band.

Shake ‘Em Up Jazz Band

Each year, doing the show gets a lot easier. In fact, in my initial music pull for this show, I had twice as much music as I needed. But the music industry, like most of our economy, is still tilted toward men. Things are improving but we’re not there yet. It’s a good year to vote.