Earl King lives on and so does Chewbacchus

I’m a little late in posting last Thursday’s show but I’m hoping its worth the wait, featuring music written by and in some cases performed by Earl Silas Johnson – aka Earl King.

Born in the Irish Channel district of New Orleans on February 7, 1934, Earl Silas Johnson is behind one of the more covered Mardi Gras standards, “Big Chief.” So in today’s show (which you should have playing by now – click the arrow above) I dive into Earl King’s music as well as other Mardi Gras numbers — including perhaps the most covered “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” song written by Professor Longhair.

Chewbacca in the Chewbacchus Parade

This weekend, the 2019 Mardi Gras parade season ramped up with the quirky, Sci-Fi parade “Krewe of Chewbacchus.” The 900-member, self-described satirical space cult, walks, pedals, pushes but does not drive its contraptions down its parade route. Only three rules: No unicorns unless with rocket thrusters; no elves unless cyborgs; and no whinebots.

Earl King kicks the show off with one of my favorites: “No City Like New Orleans.” Later I play an early recording of his called “Til I Say Well Done” and an example of him funking it up with “Do the Grind.” Covers of King songs by The Roamin’ Jasmine and Dr. John round out my tribute to what would have been his 85th birthday if we hadn’t lost him in 2003. I finish the Earl King segment with The Radiator’s tribute song “King Earl.”

The fun continues though with new music by Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Lena Prima. Benny Turner, Big Al and the Heavyweights and Yvette Landry and the Jukes.

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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 2

Mardi Gras dot background.

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_LAurore_Cover_WebBonsoir 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.

roamin-jasmine-live-at-horaces-barTaylor 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 turnerBenny 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.

 

Bandleader inspired by early New Orleans Rhythm & Blues

No one needs to convince Taylor Smith of the ability of radio to perpetuate musical traditions and nurture new ones.

roamin-jasmine-backyard-photoAs the bandleader and composer for The Roamin’ Jasmine, Smith has become well acquainted, as do most successful New Orleans musicians, with the city’s traditional jazz standards.  But its been his ability to apply a New Orleans style rhythm and blues spin on classic blues numbers that sets his music apart.

For example, check out his take on Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Wartime Blue (from the band’s second album). With the band’s latest release “Live at Horace’s,” Jefferson’s Hangman Blues gets updated with a New Orleans mambo groove.

“When we started, the guys I recruited to play in the band all played traditional jazz standards, and we all knew a lot of that repertoire so we started playing a lot of that stuff.  But soon after coming to New Orleans, I got interested in the classic 1950’s Rhythm and blues tunes and started arranging versions of those tunes for the group.”

“I got to give credit to the great New Orleans radio station WWOZ cause that’s where I’ve heard so much of that music.”

WWOZ, like KAOS, is a community radio station, supported by listeners and underwrites with volunteer deejays.  Smith singled out “50’s R&B with Neil Pellegrin” (Tuesdays starting at 5 p.m. West Coast Time) and R & B Oldies with Rare On The Air (Wednesdays at the same hour).  From my personal experience, I’ll also add Blues and R&B with Gentilly Jr. same time slot on Mondays.

It was WWOZ’s playing of “That’s a Pretty Good Love” a b-side song to Big Maybelle’s hit Candy that inspired Smith to cover it on his live release.

Smith is a Boston native who graduated from the University of Miami jazz school but fell in love with New Orleans during a college break excursion.  His band’s first release was in 2014. They’ve toured England twice and will be performing in Australia this fall as part of a collaboration with Lachlan Bryan (and the Wildes).

Here’s the full interview from my show starting with a spin of “That’s A Pretty Good Love.”

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.”

John-Papa-Gros.jpg
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.

ROAMIN-JASMINE-BACKYARD-PHOTO.jpg
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.

chawa.jpg
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.

New Orleans is a homing beacon to musicians worldwide

If Taylor Smith was a moth, New Orleans would be the light.

Double Bass Player Taylor Smith found his bliss playing music in New Orleans.
Double Bass Player Taylor Smith found his bliss playing music in New Orleans.

And that light is shining bright for a lot of musicians, young and old, who have found their muse in New Orleans. The Roamin’ Jasmine‘s bandleader initially visited New Orleans as part of the ancient college ritual, Spring Break.

But fortunately, the music major managed to wander beyond the beer-chugging Bourbon Street scene to where the real magic happens. As a University of Miami senior, he had yet to find his musical niche in Florida so, as it has for generations before him, New Orleans proved to be both eye and ear opening.

Captivated by the scene, he and his roommate moved to New Orleans after graduation in 2010. He stayed for a year but then went looking for greener pastures, doing a couple of tours with bands and ending up in his hometown Boston.

“But I realized I wasn’t playing music that much. I came back to visit one time while I was living in Boston and thought why did I ever leave this. Every minute I was here, I was going to jam sessions, going to people’s houses and they’re having a campfire and playing tunes.  I even played on the streets a few times.”

The Roamin' Jasmine performing at Bacchanal. Taylor is on bass (left).
The Roamin’ Jasmine performing at Bacchanal. Taylor is on bass (left).

Smith returned to New Orleans in 2012 and soon after formed The Roamin’ Jasmine which plays regularly in New Orleans and is currently doing a tour in Alaska. Smith’s experience is not unique.

Throughout the years, musicians have been finding their way to the birthplace of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Fats Domino and The Meters. Jon Cleary, who has mastered a wide range of New Orleans piano styles, was raised in England but took a one-way trip to the city as a young musician.

In 1995, Japanese blues guitar sensation June Yamagishi abandoned an established career to immigrate to New Orleans — much to the benefit of the Wild Magnolias and Papa Grows Funk. Matt Perrine, whose sousaphone and bass anchor countless New Orleans recordings, migrated from California to the city in 1992. Others, like guitarist/songwriter Alex McMurray and the founding members of Galactic, were college students (Tulane and Loyola respectively) who decided to stick around after graduation. University of New Orleans jazz program also has contributed a number of new residents as well.

Sisters Leah Song (left) and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia lived and performed in New Orleans for seven years.
Sisters Leah Song (left) and Chloe Smith of Rising Appalachia lived and performed in New Orleans for seven years.

The magnetic force of New Orleans seems to have only gotten stronger since Hurricane Katrina. Last week, I attended a Rising Appalachia concert where the two sisters that fronted the band referred often to the enriching years they spent in New Orleans following Katrina.

In my last visit to New Orleans, every musician I talked with (and most are delighted to chat) was from some other place. Pianist Bart Ramsay (Zazou City) has lived in the city a long time but hails from Chicago.  Another pianist was from New Jersey.  A saxophone player was from the Midwest. Everyone had a story about how they came to New Orleans and found their bliss.

Josh Wilson, whose Seattle-based band Tubaluba is heavily influenced by the New Orleans brass sound, did a pilgrimage to New Orleans specifically to improve his New Orleans piano skills.  He connected with Jelly Roll Morton specialist Tom McDermott and seriously considered moving to the city permanently.

But its more than just the professional milieu that is attractive. The daily infusion of tourists and the large number of clubs and venues provide a wealth of employment opportunities for musicians — allowing them to lead a reasonably normal life. They can catch their child’s soccer game in the afternoon, play a gig in the evening and sleep in their own bed that night.

“I’ve never been to any city where I’ve met so many working-class musicians. New Orleans is really nurturing in that way; the quality of life is very good,” Kristin Diable told American Songwriter magazine. Diable, Americana singer/songwriter, is from Baton Rouge but for a time she tried her luck in New York City. “Within a year of being in New Orleans, I was making 10 times more money than I ever made in New York City.” The influx of new talent is not without its controversy. Some have argued that newcomers don’t take the time to learn the history, culture and style of New Orleans music.

Congo Square is where slaves congregated on Sundays in 19th Century New Orleans and is considered where jazz was born.
Congo Square is where slaves congregated on Sundays in 19th Century New Orleans and is considered where jazz was born.

The debate raises the question of what is New Orleans music. Is it jazz, R&B, bounce, funk, roots, hip hop Mardi Gras Indian? Or is it all of the above and more. The lesson and legacy of Congo Square is that the city’s musical storehouse relies on its continued ability to welcome and nurture different styles.

So I’ll keep playing music from New Orleans whether or not you might think its New Orleans music. For this Monday’s show, I’ll emphasize music by those who made a conscious decision to make New Orleans their home. Oh yea, and I’ll have a little more of my interview with the effervescent Taylor Smith. (Whoops. Left the interview on the wrong computer. I’ll include with podcast and air it next week.)

New Orleans clears the air in its bars and nightclubs

New Orleans may be the place where you can “Do Whatcha Wanna” but thankfully that no longer includes sticking a lit end of a cigarette in my face while dancing to Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar.

Vincent Broussard of Rebirth Brass Band powers his saxophone at the Maple Leaf Bar.
Vincent Broussard of Rebirth Brass Band powers his saxophone at the Maple Leaf Bar.

New Orleans recently joined the more than 700 other U.S. cities in adopting a smoke free ordinance for its bars and nightclubs. Louisiana restaurants have been smoke-free since 2007.

For the record, I wasn’t too bothered by the cigarette in my face. We were all enjoying the music; safety goggles might have been nice to have.

That was a few years back. And even before then, a movement was building to protect service workers and musicians from sidestream smoke. Can you imagine what it must feel like to suck in a lungful of smoke to sing or blow your horn.  More and more establishments were going smoke free or, at the very least, creating a smoke-free performance space for musicians and their audience.

King James and the G-Men perform regularly at BJ's in the Bywater--a classic neighborhood bar that allowed smoking up until the citywide ban.
King James and the G-Men perform regularly at BJ’s in the Bywater–a classic neighborhood bar that allowed smoking up until the citywide ban.

In my last visit, just two weeks before the ban went into effect (April 22), the smoke had cleared from just about every venue. One notable exception was a Bywater neighborhood bar, BJs–a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood dive bar that would never have gone smoke free if the law hadn’t required it. Still, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have to throw my clothes away after a night of listening to King James and the Special Men.

It may be too soon to tell the lasting impact of the ban. Early reports are that business hasn’t been hurt too badly by the ban. Drinkers will drink and smokers will smoke. So the biggest concern now is the noise factor.

Places with courtyards, patios and balconies can still allow smoker unless, like Bacchanal, the owners prohibit smoking. The Roamin's Jasmine playing in the courtyard.
Places with courtyards, patios and balconies can still allow smoking. Above, the Roamin’ Jasmine perform in the courtyard of Bacchanal which by its own choice prohibits smoking.

Bars and nightclubs can be fined by the city if they create a “nuisance.” Since New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods with bars and businesses in close proximity, when patrons go outside for a puff (the ban includes vaping), noise levels rise. With some bars operating 24/7 or until the very wee hours of the night, a group of “pissed” smokers outside a bar run the risk of pissing off the neighbors.

Well, I’ve got music that will take you back to the smoke-filled dive bars of New Orleans yore on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa.  And you won’t need to wash your clothes and hair afterwards.

Easy to catch a lot of NOLA music in a short period of time

Catching as much music as possible in New Orleans ain’t hard. But some stamina comes in handy at times.

We arrived on Friday night and hustled down to see late night show of the Soul Rebels at d.b.a.  I’ve yet to catch them at their home bar, Les Bon Temp Roule but its always fun to hear and feel this talented brass band.

Saturday, we took the “Freret Jet” (#15 bus) to the annual Freret Street Festival, getting there in time to catch the swinging last half of the Mississippi Rail Company set. This New Orleans  R&B group is on my list to pick up when I get to the Louisiana Music Factory.

Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein are two of the "bones" of Bonerama. Billy Iuso, fronting his own band earlier, added some licks to a Bonerama number.
Mark Mullins (left) and Craig Klein are two of the “bones” of Bonerama. Billy Iuso, fronting his own band earlier, added some licks to a Bonerama number.

One of the advantages of visiting New Orleans is to learn about musicians that don’t get airplay outside of the area. Billy Iuso and the Restless Natives is one of those blues groups that sneaks up on you, starting off without much fanfare but blowing you away by the final beat.

The headliner for the festival was Bonerama — three trombones backed up by guitar, bass and drums. This group, which has played the Winthrop Blues Festival, was in excellent form.

We finished the day back at Frenchmen Street with The Maison’s evening closer Austin soul group The NightOwls.  They put on an energetic show that was almost overshadowed by some of the Spring Break-like antics of the crowd.

On Sunday evening, we braved Northwest-style rains and winds to sit in Bacchanal’s open courtyard to see The Roamin’ Jasmine.  Now, I’ve aired the Jasmine many times on the show but as usual its a delight to see the band in action, particularly with Taylor Smith, bassist and bandleader, singing.

Yesterday, we rented bikes and pedaled uptown to Carrollton, up Jeff Davis Parkway to City Park and back down Esplanade, stopping at Three Muses where Bart Ramsey, who fronts a Gypsy Jazz band called Zazou City, played a solo piano and sang for the early evening audience. I will definitely be playing some of his music when I get back on the  show in two Monday’s from now.

King James & the Special Men at BJ's Lounge
King James & the Special Men at BJ’s Lounge

I can’t close without mentioning my evening at BJ’s Lounge where King James and The Special Men held court for their regular Monday session.  This was bluesy, boogie woogie rock n’ roll fronted by Jimmy Horn,  who lived briefly in Seattle before stumbling into New Orleans in the 90’s. A disciple of Ernie  and Antoinette K-Doe, Horn seems to possess some of that same confident but endearing swagger. There is no stage at BJ’s.  No barrier between audience and musician and the give and take was, to be understated, uniquely entertaining. As his piano player banged out Fats Domino-like triplets on Blue Monday, I marveled at how I was probably no more than two miles from the Ninth Ward neighborhood bar that Antoine “Fats’ Domino was first discovered by Imperial Records while banging out the beat that became part of rock n’ roll history. A special treat was Jason Mingledorff sitting in with his saxophone.

Kim and I are chilling today but we’ll be catching a lot more beats in the days to come. Keep up with my posts by subscribing (upper right hand side of page.)

2014 New Orleans Music Buyer’s Guide – Part 2

Last week, I did a summary of 2014 New Orleans releases. The list got so long, I needed a second round. I’m not organized enough to put them in any order so there’s no shame, as will be proven when you read below, in being included in this second installment.

By the way, this is music I play on Sweeney’s GumboYaYa. (And I’d be thankful if you subscribed – Upper Right Corner )

You'll want to Linger Til Dawn with Debbie Davis' latest CD
You’ll want to Linger Til Dawn with Debbie Davis’ latest CD

Debbie Davis and the MesmerizersLinger Til Dawn showcases a voice that ranges from Broadway to Bawdy.. Her second CD offers a satisfying selection of songs backed up by accomplished musicians- Joshua Paxton on piano, Alex McMurray on guitar and Bonerama member Matt Perrine on sousaphone. Their interpretation of The Kink’s “Sunny Afternoon” is inspired.

Tommy Malone – His third solo album since the Subdudes, Poor Boy, delivers 11 more smooth tunes with Malone’s unique blend of blues and folk. A talented guitarist and songwriter (he does only one cover), Malone has a voice that’s easy to make friends with.

Nicholas Payton  – Numbers is what you make of it. You could call it chill music, but it’s far too engaging to allow your mind wander. I’ll get out of the way and repeat Payton’s description: “It’s a bed of sex wrapped in 500-thread count sonic sheets.”  Get that?

Fo ‘Reel Heavy Water bounced between our blues and soul shelf this year on the strength of Johnny Neel’s funky organ and C.P. Love’s vocals. The CD really takes off for me when bandleader Mark Domizio cuts loose with his guitar, particularly on Shake N Bake.

Dr. John – The Night Tripper left nothing to chance with this tribute to the immortal one, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch Terence Blanchard, James Andrews, Nicholas Payton (see above), and Wendell Brunious supply the chops with some welcome guest vocalists contributing a diverse array of interpretations of Louis Armstrong standards. You might not like every track but you won’t ask for your money back either.

The Roamin’ Jasmine – Another talented swing jazz band forged from the busking scene of New Orleans.  In its self-titled album, this merry band of six musicians at times conjure up an exotic polyphonic sound, while staying true to the NOLA tradition of strong solos and swaggering vocals.

Davis Rogan puts its all out there in his latest. His love, frustrations and of course his view of the world.
Davis Rogan puts its all out there in his latest. His love, frustrations and of course his view of the world.

Davis Rogan –  Davis Ex Machina is distinctly a New Orleans album–and not just because its performed with journeyman NOLA musicians. Mr. Rogan is no longer a school teacher struggling from performing at night and no longer the inspiration for a character of an HBO show.  But he does continue to write songs that take you deeply into his hometown, while still connecting to timely broader messages. Case in point, “Big Treezy” appears to be a rant on the dilution of  the”New Orleans” he loves yet ends as an allegory for immigration. Or maybe that’s just me reading too much between the lines. You tell me.

The Soul Rebels – No new CD this year BUT this kick-ass funk, R&B, hip-hop brass band has been offering a weekly track online for free throughout the fall, including three recorded this year–a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” (Week 5) , a mash up of its “Nothin But A Party”and Outkast’s “Spottieottiedopaliscious” (Week 6), and a never played again arrangement of Talib Kweli’s “I Try” (Week 7). Another reason not to want winter to begin.

Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue – Gal Holiday, the alter ego of singer Vanessa Niemann, fronts a genuine country dance hall band — part honky tonk, part redneck soul and solidly swing. They’re on my list to see live next time I’m in New Orleans, meanwhile I’ll keep enjoying Last to Leave, the band’s third CD.

Kelcy Mae – What do you call an album that wraps pop, country, and blues with solid arrangements, soulful lyrics and strong vocals? Before I started my New Orleans show, I was playing Half Light frequently on my open format morning show, without knowing she was a Louisiana native. crafting music from her home in New Orleans with the able assistance of Alex McMurray and Sam Cordts.

Benny Tuner delivers a solid blues and soul collection with his latest release, Journey.
Benny Tuner delivers a solid blues and soul collection with his latest release, Journey.

Benny Turner  –  Benny’s the real thing. He’s played guitar with his brother’s band, Freddy King and he was the band leader for Marva Wright for 20 years. With his third release, Journey, Turner plays and sings quintessential blues guaranteed to satisfy the music fan on your list.

Tuba Skinny – Owl Call Blues is a testament to this street band’s ability to find archival gems and make them fresh while also producing original music that sounds old-timey.  They’ve toured the world but you can still catch them busking in the Quarter.

Gregory GoodSavage Lands offers original and traditional songs in a Woody Guthrie wanderlust style that places you at the campfire with Good singing and playing guitar as if he were still a roustabout in his home state North Dakota. Now in New Orleans, his new album joins Milo Records’ growing stable of Americana and traditional folk recordings.

The Best of Eric Lindell” will only be available digitally starting December 16. “Live in Space.”

Even with this sequel, I’m far from covering everyone. For a more complete list, here’s Offbeat Magazine listing of 2014 releases by Louisiana artists.

I’ll be playing from this list and last week’s list on the next Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa, Monday, December 15. Also, I’d appreciate if you subscribed to this blog (see upper right column).