2008 YEAR END CD REVIEWS
As you can see, I've been taking a brief break from music posting here on da blog, but not from my behind the scenes vinyl pursuits. Stay tuned for more from the HOTG archives, coming real soon as Carnival season fires up. But, now, once again (may be the last time, I don't know) I come to you with a stack of CDs by my side. It's time for my annual list of some of the mainly Crescent City music in the digital domain I bought this year. With a few exceptions, the funk quotient is high on all. I do this list mainly to give props and support to the local musicians who still are putting out exceptional music - since most of the rest of the year, we groove to the drums of distant decades, focusing on records long past their prime. Most of these CDs came out in '08, although a few are '07 vintage - still recent. . . in geezer-time. You may note that the majority were independently released by the bands themselves, which is commendable, since record companies are part of the problem - but availability can be limited. It's up to you to dig down and support New Orleans and Louisiana musicians and help insure their survival. Make the effort, invest in as many of their CDs or downloads as you can. Experience the artists live whenever you get a chance. You'll reap the rewards.
This is my own quirked-out, limited pile, in no particular order, not to be taken as a comprehensive assessment of what came out during the last year. For a larger assortment, Offbeat has it covered. In the very near future, I'll do my best to have a track from each on my list randomly catching the current of the HOTG webcast stream, joining most all the tracks I've ever posted, and various other treats. Come on over. Now that I've got the disclaimers, self-promotion and soap-box out of the way, I'll start off with a few I missed in 2007.
Dancin' Ground, New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy (Independent, 2007). I first heard NORC playing at Jazzfest 2008 and was mighty enthused. Their impressive debut CD is likely the last released recording for one of the city's hottest, most inventive drummers: Wilbert 'Junkyard Dog' Arnold, who recently passed on at age 53 - way too soon. Also funikin' up the rhythm section are bassist Jack Criuz, who played with Arnold in Walter 'Wolfman' Washington's Roadmasters (review below)for over 20 years (and still does), and in-demand veteran conga man, Alfred 'Uganda' Roberts. Full of high spirits and low down grooves, and featuring the elusive soul chanteuse, Marilyn Barbarin (Mrs. Arnold), on three cuts and Mardi Gras Indians on two others, the aptly named Dancin' Ground will have your backfield in motion 'til the mornin' comes. NORC offers up direct evidence for the continuing revitalization of New Orleans via its music, one funky throw-down at a time.
On The Brim, Groovesect (Independent, 2007). Well-made and showcasing the tight ensemble musicianship and compositional talents of this relatively young band, together just a few years, On the Brim goes for a more reigned-in jazz production with obvious funk elements, making it cool and hip, for sure; but it's not what I have experienced when hearing them live, where Groovesect's all instrumental funk is dominant and cookin ' on all burners. Some performances on the CD edge closer to that on-stage energy, like when funky icon Fed Wesley joins in on two cuts; but, for now, I prefer their sound outside of the studio confines. Of special mention is their senior member, an integral part of the collective polyrhythmia, percussionist 'Uganda' Roberts, who has backed the Meters, Professor Longhair, the Wild Magnolias and many others in his time. He lends this sect of stone groovers priceless HOTG cred, which wouldn't mean a thing if they didn't step up and earn it.
The Truth Iz Out, Theryl 'Houseman' DeClouet, (Independent, 2007). Released late in 2007, this CD received a brief mention from me on last year's list and is worth of another plug, as I still dig it one year on; and it doesn't seem to have gotten much attention. I saw the Houseman at Jazzfest this year doing some of these tunes, backed up by Jon Cleary's rhythm section, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, and I thought he sounded impressive, much better than when I first heard him with Galactic some years back. Based in Chicago now, he cut this CD back home; and it has some of New Orleans' finest players on it, including the ubiquitous 'Uganda' Roberts, who lock in the mostly smooth soul/funk vibe of the high calibre compositions, perfectly showcasing the melodic, fine grit of the Houseman's vocals.
City That Care Forgot, Dr. John and the Lower 911 (429 Records, 2008). One of Mac Rebennack's finest albums, City That Care Forgot (an old name for carefree New Orleans that always dripped irony and now is engulfed by it) addresses the precarious reality of the post-Katrina city and its state of mind, the unifying theme of all the songs. Although Mac has not lived in his beloved hometown full-time since the early 1960s, he is an embodiment of it, talking the talk, walking the walk, and still fiercely loyal in the face of those so-called leaders who brought us the Federal Flood and its FUBAR aftermath. Musically, you get what you expect from the good Dr. and his solid band, which always means high quality grooves in an organic, funky blend of the city's various styles, supporting the freshly piquant lyrical messages of Mac and his old (Bobby Charles) and new (Chris Rose, et al) collaborators. Pulling no punches, the songs give genuine voice to the denizens of the entire ravaged homeland on what is definitely the most honest, well-crafted, potent Katrina-related musical project to date, rendered by a man who will always remain vitally connected to the place, come hell or high water.
Doin' The Funky Thing, Walter 'Wolfman' Washington (zoho, 2008). Well, the title pretty much says it all on the Wolfman's first CD of new material in about a decade, as he returns in top form with his band of over 20 years, the Roadmasters, minus the recently departed Wilbert 'Junkyard Dog' Arnold - rest his soul. Arnold still seems to be on these tracks in spirit thanks to the tight, creative, broken-field playing of Kevin O'Day, who proves himself eminently capable of holding down the JYD chair. Long time bassist and frequent co-writer, Jack Cruz (who also co-founded New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy, which shares several songs in common with this album)), is still a vital part of the rhythm section. Their well-oiled, finely-tuned internal combustion, plus a fluid horn section, and a few friends sitting in all help the Wolfman re-establish himself as purveyor of some of the best high energy, in da pocket, down and gritty soulful funk New Orleans has to offer.
Live At The Maple Leaf, Joe Krown, Walter 'Woflman' Washington, Russell Batiste, Jr. (Independent, 2008). These three A-list players, who also front their own groups as well as being sought-after sidemen, have held down the Sunday night gig (free crawfish !) at the Leaf on Oak Street in Uptown New Orleans for a couple of years now. I just saw them there the cold weekend before Christmas. During their tenure, they have developed a robust trio sound with Krown on B-3 organ (vintage 1958), Washington on guitar and vocals, and Batiste on drums, gettin' down real funky. Their set list is a mix of instrumental originals (by Batiste or Krown) and cover tunes, many from Washington's extensive repertoire. A well-recorded, accurate portrayal of some of what they dish out at the gig, the CD was tracked at the club on a hot summer night last year, and conveys a sense of the festive vibe inside and, just maybe, the smell of mudbug steam hanging in the air - the perfect atmosphere for their special brand of spontaneous grooving to occur, which it decidedly does.
Peace, Love & Understanding, Big Sam's Funky Nation (Independent, 2008). Hard blowing trombonist Big Sam Williams, a veteran of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, fronts this large, hard-driving outfit that mixes New Orleans and other funk styles, jazz, and jamband rock into a heady brew that can nail you against the back wall with it's powerful kick, especially live. Sitting in on vocals for a couple songs on the new CD are Ivan Neville and Nick Daniels of Dumpstaphunk. I dig the mix of styles evolving in this band and the intricate twists and turns within the more complex of the tunes. Almost entirely a high-energy outing, the CD leaves no doubt that BSFN is a force to be reckoned with. It must be cranked on a full range system for proper effect; and, when the party erupts, prepare to get on up and sweat.
Emphasis (On Parenthesis), Stanton Moore Trio (Telarc, 2008). Great title. The cleverness extends to many of the selections on this latest from mega-drummer Moore (Galactic, Garage a Trois, et al) whose solo projects are always engaging romps. Stripped down to a core unit of Moore, guitarist Will Bernard, and keyboardist Robert Walter, the trio setting brings each player into sharp focus and sparks intense interaction. You'll hear punchy, spunky funk, alluring tones, manifold grooves, and even an off-kilter soundscape , with plenty of Moore's best broken-up playing throughout, natch. A number of the tunes have a harder rock edge, several reminding me of Jeff Beck's 1970s style of fusion; and when Moore really rocks out, I can hear his debt to the amazingly creative (and hard-hitting) John Bonham. Booty shakers, hippie herky-jerkers, and free-thinking head-bangers can all find something to latch onto in this diverse package.
New Orleans Latin Soul, Los Po-Boy-Citos (Independent, 2008). Winner of my highly coveted (and just invented) year's best new band name award. These guys contacted me about their band last year and invited me to a gig. So refreshing, since 99% on my email is spam from or about bands who have NOTHING to do with New Orleans. Anyway, they later sent me their new CD, too, even though I have yet to make it to one of their gigs. Much of their inspiration harks back to the Latin-soul boogaloo music that came mainly out of New York City back in the 1960s via the many exceptional Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians long on the scene there. To that vintage boogaloo. Los P-B-C apply some funky local R&B, offering a fresh slant on New Orleans' historic Cuban, Caribbean and second line influences. Other bands have made successful Latin/New Orleans fusions: Cubanismo's searing salsa-oriented Mardi Gras Mambo, the multi-cultural jazz approach of Los Hombres Calientes; and the Iguanas' roots rock mix. This is a band till in the early stages of making its statement, but listeners are rewarded for getting in on the ground floor and experiencing their insinuating moves and grooves. Polished and deceptively easy on the ears New Orleans Latin Soul gets better the more I hear it, enticing me to start a side collection of boogaloo (like I need another obsession). An impressive first effort that has me looking forward to more, including, I swear, catching Los Po-Boy-Citos down and dirty live at a club. The sooner the better.
Here Come the Girls, Ernie K-Doe (Great American Music, 2008). When he was still of this Earth (more or less), K-Doe was always predicting the impending re-arrival of fame truly worthy of his own self-image, but, unfortunately, passed away just a few years shy of getting some of that from an unexpected source. As I have related previously, in 2007, a British TV commercial for a drugstore chain used the song "Here Come The Girls" from an obscure (to most) album K-Doe made with producer/writer Allen Toussaint and the Meters around 1970, titled Ernie K-Doe. The commercial became a phenomenon, going out to the world via Youtube; and the song became a hit in the UK, exposing K-Doe to a new generation of fans who really knew nothing about him. Demand for the song was so great that the entire LP was re-issued on a re-titled CD last year, with a few bonus tracks thrown in. The original album tanked early on; and decent copies of it, sought by collectors for years, are now hard to find and quite pricey. Such is our boom or bust culture that one TV ad in high rotation opened up a huge market for this remastered digital version, making K-Doe massively hip yet again. I suspect that he, being Emperor of the Universe and all, had a hand in it from Beyond. If you haven't already, I highly recommend that you procure a copy of the CD before it, too, fades away - as fame is even more fleeting these days. It's good stuff, and you can enjoy it while awaiting Ernie's next miracle.
Simply Grand, Irma Thomas (Rounder, 2008). Finally, I'm slipping in this non-funk selection because, hey, it's Irma Thomas, people. Nuff said. Producer Scott Billington's concept for his, what, ninth album working with Irma is nothing short of brilliant. The certified, qualified, sanctified Soul Queen of New Orleans movingly interprets a well-chosen, evocative selection of material accompanied by various piano virtuosos from home and farther afield: Dr. John, Henry Butler, Jon Cleary, Ellis Marsalis, Randy Newman, and so on. The piano is such an integral part of the city's sound, as is Irma's rich, resonant, heart-touching voice, which just grows richer and more rewarding with the years. The combinations and collaborations on this CD, gorgeously recorded, make for another highpoint in the singer's triumphant, supremely well-deserved career rebound after the Katrina disaster. She's simply miraculous every day.
Well, it's about time to get back to the vinyl, now. I had wanted to review some CDs by artists from the Lafayette area, but I've run out of steam. So, let me just give you the links and brief blurbs and let you take it from there. Though not funk records, all are highly recommended:
You Don't Know Your Mind, David Egan (Out Of The Past, 2008) - A nationally recognized and respected songwriter, David Egan also performs his own material very effectively. Various parts blues, rock, Louisiana soul, and New Orleans R&B, he is more than the sum of his influences; and I rank him up with Randy Newman as one of the great songcrafters of my generation.
Union Town, The Bad Roads (Latanier, 2007) - Birthed as a high-school garage band in Lake Charles, LA, they had one regionally successful single in 1966 that has become a high priced treasure for garage-rock collectors and appeared on numerous compilations. The Bad Roads, who broke up in 1967 and informally first re-united in 1980, are miraculously still rocking out better than ever and releasing new material. My newest guilty pleasure.
from the Reach, Sonny Landreth (Landfall, 2008) - I am indeed fortunate to get to see Sonny fairly frequently around here at clubs, festivals. . . and the grocery store. At times I've watched him play from literally just a few feet away, yet I continue to be completely dazzled and mystified by his technique, not quite able to explain what he does with a slide to get the effects he coaxes from the strings - he's some kind of conjurer, for sure, and sounds like no one else. If you're not familiar with Sonny, change that and see why some of the best guitar players on the planet, and legions of the rest of us, are such fans of his.