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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Quarantine and Chill – With Some of New Orleans’ Finest

Shamarr Allen wants to keep you in shape for when Second Lines return. This means today’s show kicks off with”Quarantine and Chill” and Allen’s exhortation that “just because you’re stuck in the house, don’t mean you can’t . . .show me that footwork!”

Get my show started and I’ll fill you in on the rest of the program’s line up.

Four more fine New Orleans artists help me out with calling the music this week, starting with Debbie Davis, former member of the Pfister Sisters. Davis has just released her second record with pianist Josh Paxton t– Interesting Times. She introduces us to her new album (about 5 minutes into the show) with “Other Than Everything, Everything’s Great” and “Will It Go Round in Circles.” She sings two more times in the set — David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World” from her latest record and Lou Reed’s “After Hours” from an earlier project — Debbie Davis and the Mesmerizers.

Lena Prima has produced and distributed over 200 masks.

Lena Prima comes on (at about 38 minutes into the show) to talk about how she’s been doing during the quarantine. As you can see from the picture, she’s been busy making masks. In her set, you’ll hear songs from three of her albums — the title track “Since the Storm”written by her husband who leads her band, “Jump for Joy” from her album of original songs Starting Something and a live recording of a classic pulled from her father’s songbook, “Scuba Diver.”

You will meet Sierra Green at about the 50 minute mark. Sierra Green & the Soul Machine recently received Offbeat Magazine‘s Best Emerging Artist award. You’ll hear two tracks from her self-titled debut record and, just for fun, I finish that set with Glen David Andrews powering through a Galactic number (You Don’t Know). If you were waiting to dance, wait no more!

Davis Rogan on piano performing a packed house in Olympia.

Davis Rogan was scheduled to perform at Octapas in Olympia next month but obviously those plans are no longer. Like just about every professional musician with a mortgage, Davis has been learning how to get his music and his tip jar out on the Internet. You can catch his live performances on his Facebook page Sundays at 10 a.m. and Wednesdays at 4 p.m. (Left Coast Times). Rogan joins the show about 65 minutes in and introduces his latest single “Mardi Gras Chicken” followed by “No Blues” and “Fly Away.”

I throw in a set of Zydeco and Cajun along with a long string of brass band music kicked off by Chuck Carbo’s “Hurt Coming On.” But before I do that, I make a pitch for supporting community radio. My show airs on Thursdays on KAOS and Fridays on KMRE. Listener support is essential to these stations continued survival.

As for me, I just want to smile and you can make me smile by subscribing to this blog. I’ll be back next week.