Here’s Part 2 of my annual roundup of 2017 releases from New Orleans (and a couple from Lafayette) just in time for the holiday shopping season. Part 1 here. The recording of this show features songs from the releases discussed in this article so you can listen while you read. Please consider subscribing (on the right)
Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield – There’s an infectious joy with a Kermit Ruffins performance and on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, Basin Street Records created the environment for Ruffins to reach peak effervescence. A Beautiful World is lovingly produced by Irvin Mayfield and supported by a large cast of top New Orleans talent including Cyril Neville, John Boutte, Jason Marsalis, Dr. Michael White, Shannon Powell, Glen David Andrews and actor Wendell Pierce. Throw in the sterling voice of Haley Reinhart and the party sounds of Rebirth Brass Band, which Ruffins co-founded, and you have an album that richly deserves its place on top of the Billboard Jazz chart. Here’s more on the album including my interview with Ruffins and Mayfield at the Mother-in-Law Lounge in New Orleans.
Trombone Shorty – Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews is an international touring artist with a grammy nomination and a slick third release Parking Lot Symphony since his breakout Backatown. But his recordings still reflect his roots. From the opening and closing funeral-like dirges to his cover of Allen Toussaint’s “Here Come the Girls” to his colloquially titled “Where It At?” Andrews leaves no doubt he’s a part of a proud family of Treme musicians. Check out his “Tripped Out Slim” for a healthy hit of brass funk.
Bonsoir Catin – First, don’t use the Google translation to say the English version of this band’s name. I made that mistake while doing my show and was promptly corrected by a fan of the band listening from Baton Rouge (Thank you Bill Boelens) This mostly all-female group from Lafayette plays cajun music in a fresh, addictive manner. L’aurore is an excellent ambassador for your friend who’s been reluctant to attend a fais do-do. The opening, title track makes it clear you’re going somewhere else and by the funky La Delaissee, you two will be dancing. I GAR-ON-TEE!.
Shotgun Jazz Band – Steppin on the Gas is not just another New Orleans hot jazz release. Imagine attending one of the three live performances this band does on a weekly basis on Frenchmen Street, except get rid of all the chatting diners and drinkers and add clarinetist Tom Fischer and trumpeter Ben Polcer to the already strong Shotgun Jazz Band line up featuring Charlie Halloran on trombone and Marla Dixon on vocals. You will be transported to another time, say 100 years ago, to Tom Anderson’s saloon at the corner of Basin and Iberville.
Twerk Thomson – Mr. Thomson is clearly into time travel. With Twerk Thomson Plays Unpopular Songs, the bass player for Shotgun Jazz Band literally takes you back to the infancy of music recording, assembling a talented band and using one microphone to feed into a Presto K8 lathe, cut directly to acetate discs at 78 rpm. He edited for sound and fortunately made it available on more new-fangled formats like CD and MP3. The total vintage jazz effect is perfect for the vinyl lover who doesn’t own a turntable.
Taylor Smith & The Roamin’ Jasmine – With his third release, Live at Horace’s, Taylor Smith continues his mission of being a New Orleans guardian of the R&B groove. Singing from behind his upright bass in the cozy neighborhood bar walking distance from his Central City home, Taylor and his five Roamin’ Jasmine deliver 13 tight songs. The band fearlessly tackle Blind Lemon’s “Hangman’s Blues,” Maybelle’s “That’s a Pretty Good Love,” Blind Boy Fuller’s “Step It Up and Go,” Little Bob’s “I Got Loaded” and Earl King’s almost forgotten “Feeling My Way Around.” Here is more, including an interview with Taylor Smith
Lost Bayou Ramblers – Brothers Andre and Louis Michot formed this band in 1999, having learned their craft from their father and uncles in the family band, Les Frères Michot. They are more than capable of playing traditional cajun music sung in French/French Cajun. Yet while Kalenda is uncompromising in its presentation, it also pushes the boundaries with a jazz like, edgy pacing, particularly with the title track which taps into a folklore that dates back to before Congo Square.
Paula and the Pontiacs, Looking for some swinging blues with sax, harmonica and a voice that fills the roadhouse but is connecting directly to you, consider Paula Rangel’s Seventeen– a sort of best hits from her previous releases. She handles all the above, including stongwriting but also gets great support from a rotating cast of familiar names including Jeffrey “Jelly Bean” Alexandar and Johnny Vidacovich on drums, John Mooney on slide guitar (Cadillac Love) and Cranston Clements on guitar.
Delfeayo Marsalis – His exceptionally-timed 2016 release Make America Great Again with the Uptown Jazz Orchestra arrived too late for last year’s buying guide, so I’ll give it a two thumbs up now. And for something a bit different, Kalamazoo presents the trombonist member of the Marsalis musical dynasty performing with his father in a relaxed live setting. Starting with the New Orleans Rhythm King’s “Tin Roof Blues” to the oft-played standard “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans,” you’ll recognize many of the songs but you won’t have heard them played this way. There is love in this music.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band – Any thought that Preservation Hall Jazz Band is a relic of New Orleans past, need only listen to So It Is. Following a trend from its last album. That’s It, the band continues to record original songs that break new ground. The opening track could have played on the TV show Mad Men while other tracks use Cuban rhythms, strong keyboards and liberal doses of brass band chaos. This is the new Preservation Hall Jazz Band – – long live them.
Benny Turner – He might have 60 years of performing under his belt, but no moss is growing under this veteran bluesman who early in his career performed with his brother Freddie King and then did a 20-year stint in New Orleans as Marva Wright’s bandleader. His second tribute to his beloved brother, My Brother’s Songs, benefits from his guitar and voice and some choice performances by New Orleans musicians, including Jason Mingledorff, Joe Krown, June Yamigishi and Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander. An excellent choice for the blues fan on your list.
Dirty Bourbon River Show – The band’s latest release, Flying Musical Circus, exemplifies its website billing of “New Orleans Big Brass Circus Rock Music.” With its Eastern European flair and horns, the “show” reminds me of some of the better bands that frequent HonkFest. The difference is the original songwriting and Noah Adams’ voice which prowls through his songs much like he prowls on stage during the band’s energetic performances. The music engages you to clap and sing, particularly with the (unfortunately radio unfriendly) song “All My Friends are Dead.” Here’s my interview with the band’s saxophonist Matt Thomas along with a couple of the band’s songs recorded during my show.
Revival! – Carolyn Broussard is the best reason to pick up Now is the Time – the title pulled from the lyrics of Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” covered on the album. She gets excellent support from her fellow band members with their bluesy soul vibe, but every time I hear her singing in “Sweet Inspiration” and the Temptation’s “I Can’t Get Next to You,” I kick myself for missing the band’s Thursday evening gig at Cafe Negril the last time I was in New Orleans.
Ken Swartz and the Palace of Sin – Smile Away the Blues was a pleasant surprise, arriving at my KAOS inbox for processing into the blues collection. He packs 16 songs into Smile Away the Blues most with an easy, acoustic feel balanced with upbeat harmonica and toe-tapping rhythm. His unpretentious vocals is well-suited to his Americana-style, particularly in songs like “Payday.”
Darcy Malone and the Tangle – Following up on last year’s release, Darcy Malone and her band released four new tracks on the EP Make Me Over. Perhaps the indie rock/pop sound is something you don’t associate with New Orleans, yet Darcy Malone and Christopher Boye are very much from the city. As with their last release, the band features a delightful amount of saxophone. If you’re looking for a break from jazz but you want to stay in New Orleans, Darcy Malone and the Tangle will take care of you.