KAOS/Gumbo YaYa’s – Top Ten 2017 New Orleans CD’s

Here are my top 10 New Orleans music releases.  All of these have been played on my show on KAOS in 2017 (For more new releases played on my show this year, go to my end of year roundup.)  You can listen to the show featuring these releases while you read about them.

A Beautiful World.jpgA Beautiful World – Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield hit a home run with this home town love note featuring over 50 New Orleans musicians with originals and covers that totally capture Ruffins’ style and vibe.  Mayfield, as producer and master trumpeter, does a great job of letting the relaxed, hip style of Ruffins shine through.

boneramaHot Like Fire – Mark Mullins and Craig Klein are solidly in their comfort zone with their latest Bonerama release, their first through Basin Street Records. The album’s strength is the talent of the musicians, especially Matt Perrine, who contributed three songs as well as his sousaphone expertise and Bert Cotten, whose guitar gives this brass heavy release a rocking feel.

roamin-jasmine-live-at-horaces-barLive at Horace’s – Taylor Smith may regret putting his favorite neighborhood (Central City) bar on the international map but the cozy Horace’s apparently was just the venue for him to showcase his energetic style of New Orleans R&B.  Guitar Slim, Earl King, Elmore James and Blind Lemon Jefferson all get  the Roamin’ Jasmine treatment in this set.

SoItIsSo It Is –  This is the second release by Preservation Hall Jazz Band with all original tunes. While Preservation Hall, with its musician’s collective, is known for keeping the tradition alive, the recording/touring band is keeping the tradition alive by providing fresh music that connects New Orleans to its Afro-Cuban roots. It’s totally hip and hard to stop playing.

With-You-in-Mind-Cover-980x980With You in Mind – Stanton Moore was still grieving the unexpected death of Allen Toussaint, the central architect of New Orleans R&B and Funk in the 60’s and beyond, when he went into the studio with David Torkanowsky and James Singleton. With the help of Cyril Neville, Nicholas Payton, Trombone Shorty and Donald Harrison Jr, the trio captured Toussaint’s joy for life as well as ability to touch your heart.

hot 8 on the spotOn the Spot – The Hot 8 Brass Band does brass band music right. Given my fondness for this band and its sound, I would be hard pressed to not have them on my list.  But after 20 years, this band is not resting on its laurels.  The band covers Stevie Wonder and the classic St. James Infirmary in its usual ear-opening style but it also offers new songs that speak to this band’s amazing ability to keep on plugging against adversity.

sketchSketch –  Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes should be getting a helluva a lot more attention, particularly after this release. While the band can play just about any style, the members seem most entertaining with their original funk rock sound.  They have a reputation as a party band, but its members are professionals who know how to play and create unique, entertaining music.

marsalisMake America Great Again – This late 2016 release is Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra’s formula for what truly makes our country great.  Yes, he starts with the Star Spangled Banner and lays down some solid swinging big band sounds through 14 tracks but there’s sharp commentary spliced in between the jazzy sounds.  This is a great release for a deejay of New Orleans music show. It has a bit everything with top-flight craftsmanship.

dirty bourbonThe Flying Musical Circus – Noah Adams is the brainchild, singer and songwriter of this frenetically entertaining group, the Dirty Bourbon River Show.  “New Orleans Big Brass Circus Rock Music” is the elevator pitch for the music but even if that doesn’t appeal to you, give this album a listen. The music is deep and its elephant free

CreaturesFront_mini.jpgCreatures  – If Sweet Crude makes it big and it certainly has the potential, you might be able to point to this album as when they figured it all out.  This is a uniquely Louisiana-band with strong roots in Arcadia, but its clearly a pop band, that sings in French and English, with the opportunity to grow a wider audience.  Get on the ground floor with Creatures.

Your 2017 New Orleans Music Buying Guide, Part 1

Mardi Gras dot background.This is my fourth annual Buying Guide to encourage you to give the gift of music. To hear the music click on this week’s show and then read about it below. (Here’s Part 2 of the guide).

Links to all the bands are provided so you can purchase from the source. There’s no pecking order to my presentation (I’ll present my top 10 at the end of the month).  Also, while there is a Part 2 coming, this list is far from comprehensive. Let me know if I’ve left something out you like.

boneramaBonerama -Trombone Shorty was 12-years-old when two trombonists from Harry Connick Jr.’s band decided to move to the front of the stage and create the brass-funk-rock group, Bonerama. With their seventh release, Hot Like Fire, Craig Klein and Mark Mullins joined by a third trombonist, a sousaphone, guitar and drums, are clearly in their element jamming on original tunes as well as a Radiohead cover and Allen Toussaint’s Basic Lady.  Learn more about this cool band, check out my interview with Klein and Mullins.

Stanton Moore  – One of the best drummers in the business, Moore pulled together an all-star cast (Trombone Shorty, Nicholas Payton, Maceo Parker, Donald Harrison Jr. and Cyril Neville to name a few) in paying homage to Allen Toussaint with With You In Mind. Whether you like Toussaint or not (what?!), you’re going to dig this album from “Here Come the Girls” with Trombone Shorty  to Toussaint’s autobiographical “Southern Nights” with Wendell Pierce reading, not singing, the lyrics.

The Deslondes   – The band’s second release, Hurry Home, solidifies the Deslondes reputation as the premiere example of the New Orleans Americana scene. Despite its title, the album takes its time, meandering 13 songs with lyrics that linger in your mind and entice you to sing along.  Why not? Four of the five band members sing as well.

hot 8 on the spot.jpgHot 8 Brass Band – A good brass band can get even the most stiff-limbed old man moving his hips. But what makes this venerable New Orleans brass band special is its great solos, unexpected twists and those sneaky covers you don’t recognize at first.  From the band that has survived to see it all and gave the world the brass version of “Sexual Healing” comes On The Spot — essential to any brass band fan collection.

Tuba Skinny – With its eighth release Tupelo Pine, Tuba Skinny has moved from the streets into institutional status in New Orleans. This band has a deep repertoire of Prohibition and Depression era tunes performed with entertaining and reverent orchestration.  If you’re looking for something special for a traditional jazz fan, you can’t go wrong with this band that has won its audience one street performance at a time. See Pops Coffee for a far more detailed review.

Smoking Time Jazz Club –  Another street-hardened traditional jazz band  that takes you back to another era, Smoking Time has a sultry quality fueled by the band’s mission statement embedded in its name The band started  2017 with a new release Ain’t We Fortunate and finishes the year with Take Your Time and Fly —  they’re both excellent but the second one is strengthened by Sarah Peterson’s vocals.

erica-falls-home-grownErica Falls – With HomeGrown, Erica Falls has demonstrated that hard work, grit and talent can pay off. At least it does for the listener.  While this is her first full release, Fall has paid her dues singing with Allen Toussaint and Galactic and providing backing vocals in the studio for Irma Thomas, Dr. John, Marva Wright, and Bobby Charles — not to mention adding some sweet vocals to two tracks on Rebirth Brass Band’s last release.  But HomeGrown is all hers — eight of the songs are her own composition. She’s soulful, funky, sweet. . .yea, I’m in love.

Naughty Professor   – While Identity does not have a title track, its first two songs go right to the heart of the issue. The rhythmic “Mirror,” choruses with “Give people what they want”  while the second track advises to “be what you want, do what you feel.” And that’s exactly how this jazz-funk sextet has rolled ever since emerging from the New Orlean’s Loyola jazz program in 2010. The band skillfully flows through soul, R&B and hip hop. But underlying it all is a strong jazz sensibility that keeps its fresh and unique. Now that’s an identity.

New Orleans Jazz Vipers  – If you’ve visited Frenchmen Street, chances are you’ve had the opportunity to see the Vipers live. The swing jazz band has been a fixture there long before tourist knew to direct their cab to Frenchmen. “Live & Viperizin” captures the band at its most enigmatic with danceable numbers designed to draw you into the nightclub, except now you can get that live feeling at home.

Jon Cleary – With Live at Chickie Wah Wah, this master piano player follows up his grammy-award winning album featuring his funk group Monster Gentleman with an intimate solo performance recorded live at one of his favorite hometown venues.  It’s just Cleary, his voice and his piano playing some of his favorites, including two from GoGo Juice, as well as some tasty R&B and soul numbers made famous by Smiley Lewis, Jessie Hill and Jessie Belvin.  The only way you can beat this release is if you really catch him live at Chickie Wah Wah.

Sonny Landreth – This electric slide guitar master delivers a much-anticipated live acoustic set performed in his hometown Lafayette and for lagniappe, a second live set with his electric guitar.  If you are fan of this tireless touring professional (he’s in Deming for the Mt. Baker Blues Festival in August 2018), you’ve heard these songs before but not like this. If not, Live at Lafayette is a great way to become a new fan.

debbie-davie-josh-paxton-vices-and-virtuesDebbie Davis and Josh Paxton – There is a magic that derives from the alchemy of a pianist and vocalist who have performed regularly, particularly if they use their familiarity to push each other.  Davis is a lifelong singer who, in addition to her own projects, performs with The Pfister Sisters.  Josh Paxton, who is part of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, is clearly capable of tearing up the keyboards on inspired solos but lovingly wraps his performance around Davis’ voice.  Vices and Virtues puts you in the room with these two creative professionals.

Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes – The band’s website describes it best: “their irreverent funk is cut with rock riffs, a Gypsy/Klezmer flare, a Latin tinge courtesy of a hard hitting horn section, and a sense of humor.” Yea, you right.  And Sketch is the band’s best release yet.  I’m still pissed I can’t play “Fine Time” on the radio but I’ve definitely been playing the dozen other tracks that deliver soul, funk, reggae, and a power violin rock thing (“The Dragon”) that has garnered listener phone calls to the studio.

John Mooney –  John Mooney is a hard act to catch. He has no website and his Facebook and wikipedia pages don’t list his latest CD,  Truth of the Matter. But don’t let that stop you. Mooney’s voice and guitar playing are top flight but its the arrangements and the support he gets that should elevate this release to your shopping list. Ten songs with eight originals.  Most are backed up by a rotating cast of star power keyboardists (Jon Cleary, John Gros and C.R. Gruver) usually on a Hammond B-3.  And his use of male background singers on “Deal with Love” and “Push & Shove” enhance an already strong soul feeling to Mooney’s music.

Egg Yolk Jubilee – To celebrate 20 years of performing, Egg Yolk Jubilee has compiled a retrospective of a dozen previously released songs and three new ones in Crux of the Yolk.  Yes, they are frenetic, irreverent, loud and pretty damn funny, but they also rock. The band provided the brass on Jello Biafra’s New Orleans Raunch All-Stars  release a few years back.  If you have a Frank Zappa fan on your shopping list, particularly if they like horns, literally blow them away with Egg Yolk Jubilee.

Sweet Crude   –  Like many indie acts from New Orleans, Sweet Crude’s music may not make its hometown roots obvious.  Well, except that they sing a lot of their songs in French.  “We are joining a small but fervent group of young Louisianians engaged in keeping the language relevant via art,” announces the band’s website. Soaring vocals (Mon Esprit in particular) and world rhythms place the band’s first full release, Creatures, above the large stack of alternative rock releases we get in the station.

Stay tuned for Part 2 and catch my show on Thursday.

Kermit Ruffins & Irvin Mayfield team up for A Beautiful World

basin stret.jpg

Today’s show features the new Basin Street release by Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield.  Just the tonic you were looking for after the late summer rains.  Ruffins and Mayfield have a lot in common. Same town, same label, same instrument.  But there styles are very different.  Lot of help though including Cyril Neville and some cameos by native NOLA actor Wendell Pierce.  Other new releases featured as well including the Stanton Moore send up of Allen Toussaint.

August 24th show – From Benny Turner to Quintron

This week’s show starts with the Young Tuxedo Brass Band in honor of Walter Payton, father of trumpeter Nicholas Payton and the sousaphone player for that storied New Orleans band.

I then take a twist toward more contemporary music with Quintron and Miss Pussycat, Sneaky Pete, Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All Stars, Helen Gillet and the Dirty Bourbon River Show. I then head back into R&B, including playing High Blood Pressure from the Huey “Piano” Smith album I bought in Ballard last weekend and another round of brass bands.  I mixed tracks from new releases by Benny Turner, Naughty Professor and Stanton Moore. The show, as edited below, finishes with Cowboy Mouth’s relationship dirge “Broken Up.”  Enjoy!

New Orleans funk band plays the I-5 tour this week

Galactic, an ever evolving New Orleans band that tours nationally, will be on the wet side of the Cascades this coming week.

On Thursday February 26, Galactic will take the stage at Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo before rolling down to Seattle’s Showbox on Friday and finishing its tour of Interstate-5 at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland on Saturday.

(From Left) Jeff Mercurio, Ben Ellman, Dan Vogel, Jeff Raines and Stanton Moore.
(From Left) Robert Mercurio, Ben Ellman, Rich Vogel, Jeff Raines and Stanton Moore.

The band formed in 1994 and was inspired by The Meters and other funk bands playing in Benny’s Bar, a long-gone uptown establishment located not more than a football field from where the Nevilles used to live. The band’s original name Galactic Prophylactic was quickly shortened while it led a second wave of New Orleans funk bands.

The first decade, Galactic was powered by the vocals of journeyman R&B and soul singer Theryl “Houseman” DeClouet.  With its jam band tendencies, the group developed a loyal following for its live shows.

While the band has gone through a number of personnel changes over the years, the core of the group includes founding members Jeff Raines (guitar), Robert Mercurio (bass), Stanton Moore (drums) and Rich Vogel (keyboards). Also, saxophonist Ben Ellman, who produced Trombone Shorty’s first two albums, has been a long-time mainstay of the band.

After the departure of DeClouet in 2004, the band got into producing its own music using loops and samples and invited a wide range of mostly New Orleans talent into the studio with them. Ya-ka-may, probably my favorite Galactic album, includes Irma Thomas, Trombone Shorty, John Boutte, Katey Red, Big Freedia, and Big Chief Bo Dollis. The first song also includes a sample from the fright night show Morgus the Magnificent.

Robert Mercurio on bass for Galactic
Robert Mercurio on bass for Galactic

According to reviews of this tour, the band is reaching back to its roots, while still keeping it contemporary. Check out recent releases “Higher and Higher” featuring JJ Grey and “Dolla Diva” with a duet by Maggie Koerner and David Shaw of The Revivalists. For this tour, Erica Falls is handling the vocals — an excellent choice of a New Orleans singer whose talent far exceeds her current public recognition. But perhaps not for long. Here’s an article that got her on the cover of Offbeat.

Erica Falls, a talented New Orleans singer who has performed with Irma Thomas, John Fogerty and Sting, is the lead singer for Galactic on its current tour.

Individually, Galactic band members are highly active musicians and music producers involved in a wide range of other projects, including some with Seattle saxophonist Skerik (who will be in Portland Maine on Saturday). This week’s I-5 tour is an excellent chance to catch them live. But if you can’t do that, I’ll be playing my favorite Galactic numbers on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa on Monday.   (Sneak tip:  I will have tickets to the Portland show to give away.)

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What makes New Orleans drummers and drumming unique?

There’s something special about New Orleans drummers.  A statement I read and hear regularly and while my untrained ear suggests that is true, I cannot in my own words explain why.

Drum Magazine has made it easy for me though by interviewing four of New Orleans top drummers. The magazine pulled together musicians who have handled the beat for The Meters, Professor Longhair, Wynton Marsalis, Papa Grows Funk, Galactic and countless other projects.  Some of the conversation gets a little beyond my understanding but if you’re a drummer, I recommend you read the interview.  Here’s a lay summary of it:

While New Orleans wasn’t much different as other Southern locales for discouraging the continuation of African culture, the city was unique in that it did allow for New Orleans slaves and people of color to congregate at a central location, known as Congo Square, on Sundays to share, among other things, music.  From this setting, Caribbean and African rhythms and syncopation met European harmonies and melodies.

The key distinction of New Orleans drumming is an emphasis on the bass drum which in the New Orleans parade tradition is the heart and soul of the show.  The bass “is the main voice; and the snare drum is the polish.” Interestingly, in the marching band, second line tradition, the bass drummer and snare drummer are two separate musicians.

“Bottom line is it has to be a pelvic thing. . . What makes me unconsciously decide whether it’s good or bad is when I’m having a conversation [at a gig] far away from the music with someone who’s totally distracting me, and in the meantime I’m moving my butt. Then I know it’s the science of true, organic swing.”

Drumming that gets your butt moving.  Yea, that’s what I’m talking about.