January 31, 2007

From A Blues Boy, To A Soul Diva, To A Funk Band

If you’re a regular around here, you know that my posting project on Toussaint productions and cover tunes is ongoing. This past month, I’ve featured more than usual, yet fewer than I would have liked. So it goes. Things came up (car wreck, the flu, work...). Here are a few more notables to close out January. Rest assured, there are plenty more of such cuts stacked up around here; and I’ll be featuring them off and on throughout 2007. Hope Mr. Toussaint’s 69th year is a fruitful one.

"Mind Over Matter" (Allen Toussaint)
Richard Newell, King Biscuit Boy, Epic, 1974

This cut comes courtesy of the same Mr. Anonymous who provided me with the Browning Bryant tracks. King Biscuit Boy came out in 1974 and was one of the early album projects Toussaint produced completely at his new Sea-Saint Recording Studio in New Orleans. I think this album is also one of the last times all of the Meters participated as the rhythm section for a Toussaint production on an outside artist. They’re the core band on all tracks, along with Toussaint on piano and Alfred ‘Uganda’ Roberts on conga. The producer also used his regular horn section at the time: Clyde Kerr, Jr., Lester Caliste, Carl Blouin, and Alvin Thomas. Plus there’s a cameo appearance by Dr. John, who added a guitar solo on one track (“Riverboat”).

After Anon so generously sent me some cuts, I was surprised to discover that my wife had this album in some boxes I’d brought home from storage and not yet opened. But, as fate would have it (and fate’s been having a lot lately), when I was ready to play it, my turntable wouldn’t turn on. At All. Sheesh. From the three cuts I have heard, this seems to be a pretty bare bones production, and much the better for it. Canadian blues harpist and singer Richard Newell, a/k/a King Biscuit Boy, didn’t require much to do his thing. So Toussaint and the band keep the grooves fairly straightforward and simple, but still effective. The Meters here are following orders and playing solely as first rate hired hands, rather than bringing any of their own thing to the process. So, it’s not a funk record; but I like Newell’s voice and harmonica blowing, too, and look forward to hearing and featuring more.

[Revised 02/07/07] The only cover of “Mind Over Matter” I could find listed is Three Dog Night’s from 1975, which I’ve never heard. But, our friend, Lou Kash, recalled a Johnny Winter version in the comments. So, I searched for that and found that it appeared on the John Dawson Winter, III album from December, 1974, making King Biscuit Boy’s seemingly still the first recorded version. Also, research wiz and friend Jon from nevilletracks alerted me to a version he found by the Poorboys (UK group) on their 1990s CD, Bayou Bound! on the Italian label, Appaloosa. If you know of any others, please pass them along. I have also heard Toussaint do the song live at Jazzfest shows over the years, and one of those sets is available on CD.

"From A Whisper To A Scream" (Allen Toussaint)
Esther Phillips, title cut, Kudu 18, 1974

Here's another one from my wife's collection (photo is from another LP of the period, though). Of the great covers of Allen Toussaint compositions, Esther Phillips’ take of “From A Whisper To A Scream” ranks high up there. From her first Creed Taylor produced album of the same name, this song has so many high class players on it as to almost jinx the session. Yet, somehow they manage to pull it out! This lush, gutsy, ambitious arrangement by Pee Wee Ellis creates a three dimensional soundscape that Phillips perfectly inhabits. I’ve never heard Toussaint speak of this version; but I can’t help but think he must relish it. His own less frequently heard original appeared on the 1970 Toussaint album. Robert Palmer also took a decent stab at it on Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley (1974).

"Everything I Do" (Allen Toussaint)
The Gamble Brothers Band, from 10lbs of hum, (independent) 2002

My friends from Memphis (and environs), the Gamble Brother Band, had this and numerous other deftly arranged New Orleans covers in their set list, along with their own groovin’ originals, when they were first starting out around 2001. So, it was no surprise when it showed up on their debut CD, 10lbs of hum. Originally cut by Lee Dorsey with the Meters backing in 1969, the song, as fully titled, “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky (From Now On)”, has engendered a number of covers, including Lou Donaldson’s acid jazz take, Claudia Lennear album version on Phew! (comped on What It Is), and Tousssaint’s own version on Toussaint. But the GBB make it nochalantly their own, demonstrating that you don’t have to bust a gut to generate da funk. Drummer Chad Gamble knows how to relax the groove but keep it just taut enough to pull you into the snake dance. It’ s a well-lubed performance by all that makes the song lyrics neither a threat nor a promise, but a pure statement of natural fact.

January 26, 2007

2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Lineup

For those of you who haven't gotten the news, Jazzfest has announced the players for this year. I am sure there will be some later additions and/or subtractions; and, as always, there are big name non-jazz and non-local heritage acts to quibble over, but, you be the judge. Come on down, spend money. It's always somethin' to see and hear. Gotta run. . .

January 22, 2007

Wait. . .More Blinded Kindness

"Blinded By Love" (Allen Toussaint)
Browning Bryant, from Browning Bryant, Reprise, 1974
(tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

At the risk of total overload (or are we already way past that?), I just had to post this. This weekend I was contacted by an avid Allen Toussaint fan who wishes to remain nameless. He sent me this cut, which was likely the first incarnation (unless a songwriter demo turns up!) of Toussaint’s “Blinded By Love”, performed by a young (16 at the time) South Carolinian named Browning Bryant on his eponymous 1974 LP, which was produced by the composer himself. Part of the album was recorded in Atlanta and part at Sea-Saint, which was newly open for bidniz in the Crescent City. “Blinded” comes from the Atlanta sessions that included backing musicians Toussaint, Tom Robb, Barry Bailey, Auburn Burrell, Joe Wilson, and Roy Yager. Burrell and Bailey were guitarists and Robb bassist for Mylon LeFevre, who Toussaint produced two albums for in Atlanta a few years earlier. But I am unfamiliar with the other two as instrumentalists. Meanwhile, the seven New Orleans tracks feature Toussaint plus ¾ of the Meters, with the great Smokey Johnson subbing for Zig on the drummer’s throne. Mr. Anonymous also sent me a few of those cuts, too, - such a generous guy - and my initial impression is highly favorable.

I had heard tell of this record, but have never found a copy (there are a few way overpriced ones on the net) to buy*. So, it was a real kick to hear some of it and get “Blinded” directly from Toussaint’s perspective. I don’t know if he originally wrote it as a rock song, but obviously that is how it’s rendered here. It starts out kind of straight up; but, when the first verse finally kicks in, things get a loose, funky, down home, Southern rock feel. If it were my first experience of the song, I would not guess that Toussaint either wrote or produced and arranged it. New to me as a singer, Bryant (who has the look of a young Jim Morrison in that cover shot) has a tenor voice that, while surprisingly good, seems more suited to pop than rock or soul. Still, I much prefer this take to Johnny Winter’s more over-the-top compression-fest.

Ultimately, though, the soul and funk direction taken on the three versions of this song in my prior post is really more up my blind alley. Etta’s is still the best of the lot to me. But, I can enjoy Browning Bryant’s work with Toussaint, too. It shows a different side of the producer that started with the LeFevre albums and continued in his productions for Frankie Miller, Joe Cocker, the James Montgomery Band, and even popster Bryan Highland during the 70s.

We'll have to try out some those one day along with one or two songs from the Sea-Saint sessions of this well-done album. Again, thanks to Name Withheld for the revelation. Now back to getting over the Saints’ freeze out. . . (blinded by snow?).

* [update 11/9/2007] Thanks to Nicholas, who informs us in the comments that there is now a Japanese import CD of this album available. Also, I finally scored a copy of the LP a while back and will be featuring more from it, probably in January.

January 18, 2007

Three More Kinds Of Blinded

Just about a year ago, I posted an Allen Toussaint song, “Blinded By Love”, as done by Johnny Winter on his 1974 Saints & Sinners album. Toussaint never has had a commercial recording of it himself, nor have I heard him play it live. At the time of the post, I was unaware of any other cover of it. Then HOTG commenter, groovehound, and fellow blogger Lou Kash, alerted me/us to Sam & Dave’s, even providing an mp3 for reference. Since then, I’ve stumbled across two more versions and thought it would be interesting to compare the three back to back. I’ve got to admit that I had always found the song to be more an interesting oddity than something to truly groove to – that is, until I finally heard the version that changed my mind. Let’s see which one it could be. . . .

"Blinded By Love" (Allen Toussaint)Sam & Dave, from Back At'Cha!, United Artists, 1975

A couple of weeks after I posted the Winter cut, I strolled into the vinyl section of one of my favorite music stores and, (to paraphrase the song), looking over yonder what do I see: Sam & Dave staring back at me from the cover of their 1975 LP, Back At’Cha!, right at the front of the bin. Sold American. Produced by famed guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper at his own Trans Maximus Sound studio in my old haunt of Midtown Memphis, TN, the album also has another Toussaint tune, “Shoo Rah, Shoo Rah” (we’ll maybe try that one, too, at some point), plus a song that the Meters would later cover, “Give It What You Can”. Playing on the record are some of the greats of Memphis soul session men, including on this cut Steve’s fellow MG, bassist Duck Dunn, Willie Hall on drums, Marvell Thomas on keyboards, Michael Toles and Cropper on guitars, plus the Memphis Horns and a mystery conga-ista. A veritable Stax reunion. But, as I recall, Sam and Dave did not get along at all; and they probably cut their vocals in different cities, as some of the recording was done in Hollywood. Must have made live gigs a challenge. Anyway, let’s just say the LP did not prompt a reuniting comeback tour.

While their vocal take on “Blinded” is, to me, somewhat underwhelming, S & D do give it their characteristic touch. In their defense, this is a strange tune, no doubt about it, with that corkscrew central riff going on and the demanding staccato lyrical parts. Hard to get a good grip on it. Cropper had the band pretty much follow the Winter arrangement, with an added vamp (“It’s gonna be alright . ..”, etc); and everyone did their best to wrestle the feel back into soul territory from Johnny’s rock reading. But to me, it just doesn’t quite make jell-o. Still, this “Blinded” is fun to hear; and there’s some fine playing on it. I consider it a marked improvement over what Winter (and his producer, Rick Derringer) wrought. But no cee-gar. Then there's

"Blinded By Love" (AT)
Lydia Pense & Cold Blood, ABC, 1976

This was a fluke of a find. Many moons ago, my wife had mentioned liking Lydia Pense and Cold Blood, whom I had never paid much attention to, aside from hearing a song of theirs on the radio back in the 70’s. Then I noticed them showing up on some funk compilations. Hmmm. One day last year, I ran across this 1976 ABC album , picked it up, turned it over, and discovered they had a version of “Blinded”, too. So, I added another LP to the mounting storage crisis that we call home. As yet, I’ve only given the whole thing a cursory listen, but can tell it’s pretty damn funky; and their take on Toussaint’s quirk-fest here bears that out. Just listen to drummer Harvey Hughes cuttin’ up. The recording quality was not that great; and there’s that annoying fuzz effect on the guitar of head arranger Michael Sasaki; and then there’s also the fairly lame instrumental bridge that was tacked on. Yet, Cold Blood (produced by Bob Monaco) still pull off a version that sounds perfect for a late night throwdown at a little dive somewhere. Pense’s vocal doesn’t really rise above adequate for me. I’ll have to listen to her some more to see how she does on other things. In all, though, I’ll mark Cold Blood up for going funky with it, and moving the tune even further away from Winter. Nice attempt. Though, again, no El Producto given. And last (maybe), but certainly not in the least least, we have

"Blinded By Love" (AT)Etta James, from Etta Is Betta Than Evah!, Chess/All Platinum, 1976

Alright. Suspense is over. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. I am crazy ‘bout this totally fresh take on “Blinded By Love”. Producer/arranger Mike Terry has shaped it into a supple, soulful funk/dance tune; and I’m sure Toussaint would approve. With the main riff simplified and integrated into the texture of the track, it avoids that over the top “everybody hit it in unison” exercise that became distracting in the other versions. Ms James, no stranger to singing about blindness, seems decidedly comfortable with and just right for this song. She and her backing band have made it their own. It’s one fine ride and, finally, a real keeper.

This album it’s on, which was new to me, came my wife’s stash of boxed up records recently retrieved from storage. Released in 1976, Etta Is Betta Than Evah! (gotta deduct a couple of points for that title) combined both fine new recordings, including this cut and a cookin’ version of King Floyd’s “Groove Me”, and some previously released material from the Chess vaults. Etta was recording for various labels at this stage, re-associating here with what was left of Chess, which had been taken over by the All Platinum Record Group. A few years later, she would work directly with Toussaint on her great Changes LP for MCA that I’ve
featured before.

* * * * *
From the looks of it, then, Johnny Winter had the original recording of “Blinded” in 1974. I am not sure if it was written for him (since it mentions “winter”, I wonder) or if Toussaint’s publishing company was just pushing the song to various artists. And where did the other producers and artists get the inspiration to cover it? While I’m wondering, did the writer himself ever make a demo of it? I’d love to hear him do it, even if Etta’s rendition seems hard to top. Finally, “Blinded” has a cryptic Steely Dan side to its lyrics, in that I’ve been listening to the various versions for days now and still can’t figure out exactly what the damn song’s about.

January 16, 2007

A few things in between. . . .

More Booker - video and audio at Aquarium Drunkard. Truly one of a kind that one. For those of you who are always asking for more. Listen up, there still may be a test. . . .

Who Dat? Indeed - I was in New Orleans over the weekend, though not for the Saints game, sort of in spite of it, as we came over to see Olu Dara at Tipitina's Saturday night. The opening act, Alex McMurray, said it in one of his numbers, "You've gotta be crazy to live in this town." And the city was sure crazy with Saints delerium, which will hopefully continue on to to da Superbowl with inspired insanity that'll make the upcomming Mardi Gras seem like a church social, if they win - maybe even if they don't. That night the game was on tv where we ate. Walking back to where we stayed, you could tell who was ahead by the type of shouts that issued forth from every bar and open window (it was short sleeve weather!). When we got back, we watched some more, until catching a cab (didn't want to lose that preccious parking spot in the Marigny), which, natch, had da game on the radio, out to Tip's where, Natch'ez, we finished watching the home team outlast Philadelphia [I said Seattle first? Must have been Freudian.] to general applause and cheers from the few people there that early (mostly staff), and waited for Mr. Dara's Neighborhoods. Nice to see him again - but not much change in his material over the past few years that we've gotten to catch his act. But Olu and band on an average night can still put you in a juicy-lipped trance.

Heartfelt Condolences - To brother Aaron Neville on the recent passing of his wife, Joel Roux, and to sons Ivan, Aaron, Jr., and Jason, daughter Ernestine, and their entire extended family.

Stay tuned. . . .

January 11, 2007

Alive And Well: Toussaint Covers Toussaint

The seemingly ageless Allen Toussaint celebrates his 69th birthday this Sunday. So, it’s high time that I feature a cut from the man himself again, this one from his out of the ordinary, final LP for Warner Bros.

"Just A Kiss Away" (Allen Toussaint)
Allen Toussaint, from Motion, Warner Bros., 1978

As I have pointed out numerous times here, Toussaint micromanages the music he produces and arranges; and the approach has worked for him since he started taking charge of recording sessions in the late 1950s, allowing him to render many hit songs and classic recordings for the featured artists he worked behind. When he fully became a recording artist in his own name with the 1970 Scepter album, Toussaint, he naturally chose to handle the production duties himself and continued the process when he signed with the Warner Bros. group, delivering two excellent LPs, Life, Love and Faith (1972) and Southern Nights (1975). Unfortunately, those albums were not commercially successful, a result that even his fairly broad-minded record company considered problematic. So, when they contemplated the next try to turn the well-respected songwriter and producer of others into, if not a star, at least more than a tax write-off, the powers-that-were suggested a radical concept: a first rate outside producer to put the musical package together and make the decisions on material, musicians and performances. Surprisingly (at least to me), Toussaint agreed; and thus a somewhat new kind of energy was put into Motion.

That producer, legendary Atlantic Records force of nature,
Jerry Wexler, logically chose to make an album of songs, both old and new, written by Toussaint. While assuring high quality material, this judgment pretty much demanded that the songs be approached with a finesse similar to what the artist himself would apply. So, when you listen to Motion, the arrangements do not sound at all out of character for Toussaint. What gives the project a different feel more probably relates to the place the music was recorded and who is playing it. Setting up shop in Hollywood, Wexler hired some impressive musicians for the sessions: Jeff Porcaro, drums; Robert Popwell and Chuck Rainey, bass; Larry Carlton, guitar; Richard Tee, acoustic piano, Victor Feldman and Paulinho da Costa, percussion; with Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, and Venetta Fields, among others, singing background on selected cuts. Toussaint played electric piano on the sessions; but he cut his relaxed, assured vocals back in New Orleans at his Sea-Saint comfort zone.

Further adding his touch to some of the tracks, Toussaint also arranged the horns for “Just A Kiss Away” and two others. This song is a reworked and bettered version of “Mess Of Love” that appeared on John Mayall’s
Notice to Appear album from 1976 that Toussaint produced; and it surely gives good groove with a syncopated interplay of instruments and a funky strut from Porcaro that just flirts with the rampant disco of the era, but is far too gutsy to succumb. “Just A Kiss Away” is a wonderfully constructed piece of music and a prime example of Motion as a whole: extremely well-recorded, arranged, and played start to finish – slick actually, with any rough edges polished away, giving it that processed sheen and perfection never found outside studios and control rooms. The album up and cooks where necessary and lays back and emotes nicely on the balladry; but that intangible New Orleans thing that his regular stable of players could impart just isn’t there, making it seem . . . de-humidified. But for presenting Toussaint to the record buying public of 1978 in a commercially viable manner, I don’t think it could have been any better. Wexler delivered on his end.

And you know what? It flopped! Bit the big one and quickly hit the cut-out bins. So it goes in the world of record company wisdom; but, to cut them a bit of slack, Toussaint’s voice is a serviceable instrument, surely, but not really the stuff of wide mass appeal. Added to that, the man has never been comfortable in the limelight, anyway. Thus, it’s not hard to fathom why this was his last record for WB, as good as it is; and he did not record another serious album again until the late 1990’s with
Connected, getting full creative control with the NYNO label that was set up to utilize his production and songwriting talents. Guess he was just waiting for the right deal.

Happy birthday, Allen, and long may you continue to show the world what high class, down home New Orleans music is all about.

We’ll continue with more cover versions of Toussaint tunes soon. . . .

January 10, 2007

It's High Time That You Found "On Your Way Down"

"On Your Way Down" (Allen Toussaint)
Renee Geyer, from Renee Geyer, CBS/Portrait, 1982

First off, I consider this song to be one of Toussaint’s stone classics, a perfect blend of slow, moody funk and soulful, worldly-wise lyrics speaking karmic truths learned the hard way. It was first released on a Lee Dorsey Polydor single (14181) around 1971; but, to me, his was not the right voice for it. The song next appeared on Toussaint’s self-produced Life, Love and Faith album in 1972 on Warner Bros./Reprise, which had the Meters on board; but, while you can certainly sense it’s potential, he just vocally can’t quite nail his own creation. The next year, his WB labelmates, Little Feat, recorded what I hold to be the definitive version of “On Your Way Down” on their Dixie Chicken album. That was the first version of the song I heard; and it hipped me to Toussaint’s true power. Before that, he was really just a name on some records to me. On their cover, singer and el supremo slide guitarist Lowell George and the band deliver the song just as it should be with a smoky, well-worn vocal, awesome instrumentation, and the prefect atmospheric groove. Though they based their arrangement on Toussaint’s, they own the song, simple as that.

As Little Feat’s benchmark is still fairly easy to find (and you should definitely avail yourself), I’ve decided to feature a later, rarely heard rendition of this song by an Australian soul/rock singer,
Renee Geyer. Her effective effort, recorded in Los Angeles in 1981 with the Bump Band backing her, is not well known, in the States, anyway. Those of you from the Land o’ Oz may be more familiar with it. Down Under, “On Your Way Down”, appeared on her RCA/Mushroom album, So Lucky. The next year, the LP was released here as Renee Geyer on CBS/Portrait to little notice, which is too bad, as it was quite decent and enjoyable. The Bump Band consisted of some high quality rock players: drummer and co-producer Ricky Fataar, keyboardist Ian McLagan (formerly of the Faces), Johnny Lee Schell on guitar, Ray Ohara on bass, and Bobby Keyes on sax. To goose up the soul factor, producer Rob Fraboni, stirred in backing vocals by Bobby King, James Ingram, and Venetta Fields, as heard here. While the track isn’t quite up to George and the Feat, I find it to be a fine take on a song that is extremely difficult to do well. Kudos to Ms Geyer and the band for making it work. In particular, I enjoy hearing a gutsy woman on this tune, and especially like the way she holds her own with those sublimely soulful co-vocalists on the ride out.

I owe props to my old friend, Bill, who played bass in several bands with me some years back and is an extraordinary musician and record collector, for turning me on to Geyer’s LP over fifteen years ago. He gave me a long term loan on it, until I found my own copy (certainly worth the full $1.99 I paid for it at the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records in Memphis). Back when I started my radio show in the late 1980’s, Bill was my secret source for the rarest cuts – many of which took me many more years to track down, and some of which I’ve never seen since! Anyway, thanks, Bill. And thanks to Allen Toussaint and his interpreters taking us all to this musical higher ground.

PS: I also have found a version by Clarence Carter on an ABC single from 1974. About it, I'll just say again that it's hard to do this song well. . . So, we'll hear Clarence do another Toussaint cover later. Finally, almost forgot to mention Elvis Costello's reading of this tune on his collaboration with Toussaint, River In Reverse. It was a good pick for a post-Katrina themed album, but it doesn't really break any new ground musically or vocally for me.

January 06, 2007

Let The Fun Begin

I’ve been featuring various artists doing Allen Toussaint’s songs since I started this here blog. As it’s the birth month of Allen Toussaint, I’ve decided to intensify the effort and bring you even more rarely heard examples; and, with the start of Carnival season festivities today, let’s kick it off with a timely tune from Joe Cocker.

"Fun Time" (Allen Toussaint)
Joe Cocker, Asylum 45540, 1978

Although I’ve heard Toussaint do it live a few times in later years, this is the only recorded version of “Fun Time” I am aware of. As well as the single side, it appeared on Joe Cocker’s 1978 Asylum album, Luxury You Can Afford, which was produced by Toussaint with an assist from Barry Beckett. Rather unusually for the producer, the LP tracks were mainly recorded outside New Orleans, the bulk having been cut at Criteria Studios in Miami and Muscle Shoals Sound in Sheffield, Alabama. Toussaint did not employ his usual stable of local talent; and I am guessing from the players listed that only certain backing tracks were done at his own Sea-Saint Studios. Speaking of players, there were many top-flight studio pros involved with the LP project: Steve Gadd, Chuck Rainey, Cornell Dupree, Dr. John, Donny Hathaway, Richard Tee, Bernard Purdie, as well as impressive participants from the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, among others; and Toussaint sitting in on a few tunes.

Playing on “Fun Time” are members of Cocker’s band of the period, I believe: Cliff Goodwin and Mitch Chakour, guitars; Howie Hersh, bass; and John Riley, drums. Added guns are Beckett on keyboards, and a cool horn section with ‘Fathead’ Newman and Hank Crawford in the fold. The other New Orleans connection here is the sax solo by
Gary Brown, who played on numerous Toussaint sessions and was a member of the Soul Machine in the early 1970s.

This song is another little Toussaint pop gem that insinuates itself into your nervous system and quickly instigates shake time. The disco-funk groove could seem dated except for Toussaint’s deft arrangement talents and rhythmic sensibilities, making the various hooks easy to swallow and still very effective. Joe sounds like he’s way into it, too, having himself some righteous fun; and it’s infectious. Mardi Gras can't be far away. . . .

January 02, 2007

New Year, Old Year

Happy New Year, y'all. I’m working up a few new posts this week and getting used to a new job. So, there may be a slow-down in posting for a while; or not. We’ll see. I’ve got plans for this month to feature a bunch of various artists doing Toussaint tunes – I’ve been finding more of those lately. And I have part two of my Teddy Royal feature in the works. And, as many of you know, Carnival season cranks up soon. So, things ought to be active around here to kick off 2007.

I want to thank everyone who contributed to the bandwidth kitty over the past month or two. Friends and total strangers! You know who you are. You’ve helped me keep the music coming well on into the new year. As promised, since I am now employed again. . .finally, I’ve taken down the donation button.

Lastly, I just wanted to mention a few re-issue compilations and new releases that I found enjoyable and valuable in 2006. This list is in random order and not all-inclusive by any means! I reviewed a couple of these and ran across the others either online or at what is still the record store of my dreams, the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans.

SOUTHERN FRIED FUNK – 22 Funky Soul Grooves From New Orleans And The Deep South, Grapevine 3031, 2006. For New Orleans music collectors, this CD has some hard (or impossible) to find obscurities by Warren Lee, Eldridge Holmes, David Batiste and the Gladiators (the great and un-issued “Funky Hips”), and Diamond Joe, plus several Eddie Bo projects, and a funky Wardell Quezergue production on Jewell Bass. There were several things I did not have on this one. The notes are limited, but helpful. The label scans are too small to be much more than decoration.

The Instant & Minit Story – The Definitive 3 CD History of Joe Banashak’s Group Of Labels From the Gold Age Of New Orleans R&B. . ., Charly SNAJ 731, 2006. The Charly re-issue imprint is back with a re-vamped sampling of sides from these labels, which is an expanded version of their earlier 2 CD set. The notes too have been expanded, but can still be unrevealing at times. While calling it definitive is a stretch – you’d need much more than 3 CDs to really cover this subject thoroughly – this is a great collection. There were a handful of tunes I had never heard before. Glad to have it, even though I still have the earlier set, too.

What It Is! 1966 – 1977 Funky Soul And Rare Grooves From the Vaults Of Atlantic, ATCO, and Warner Bros., Rhino Entertainment R2 77635, 2006. I reviewed a single CD sampler from this 4 CD box set in November; and there is a still hot streaming audio link to about an hour’s worth of music on that post. Very nicely packaged, this set could have been even better if the compilers had gone deeper into the vaults and better researched some of the artists for the notes – but, still, this is an impressive re-issue project that I hope will have further volumes. By the way, the introductory essay for the set is by esteemed music blogger Oliver Wang of Soul Sides.

What It Is! The Singles Collection, Rhino Entertainment, 2006. In conjunction with the CD box set, Rhino has issued a limited edition set of 25 exact reproduction 45s of selected featured songs that appear on the CDs, plus their B-sides, of course, which aren’t on the CDs. Also very nicely packaged in a cardboard 45 box repro, this set costs over one and a half times as much as the CD collection; but that's just a bit less than $5.00 per mint record. To date, Rhino still has no information on it at their website! Jon at Nevilletracks alerted us to its existence in the comments to my What It Is! post. Dusty Groove still seems to have some in stock. I’ll be posting on some of these babies later.

Sing Me Back Home, The New Orleans Social Club, Burgundy Records/Sony/BMG, 2006. I’ve got to say I think this is the best post-Katrina effort by various individual New Orleans musicians to make healing music. It just kicks serious butt. A number of the city’s finest come together here with an incredible core band: Henry Butler and Ivan Neville, keyboards; Leo Nocentelli, guitar; George Porter, Jr., bass; and Raymond Weber, drums. My first impression about it was reinforced when I saw most of the participants on Austin City Limits doing this material. Highly recommended viewing and listening. Cyril Neville is incendiary on the Curtis Mayfield composition, “This Is My Country”, simply one of the best things he’s ever done – I don’t care where he chooses to live anymore. Ivan’s funky re-working of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” is also outstanding. I also heard him do that live in Lafayette with Dumpstaphunk this fall. All the performances on this one are first rate.

from the Big Apple to the Big Easy: the concert for New Orleans, Rhino Entertainment, 2006. DVD. See my review.

what’s going on, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Shout Factory, 2006. I stand by my review of this CD. The best post-Katrina album by a group. And we still need to be asking that question, people.

Two CDs of Irma Thomas material, old and new, are certainly worthy of mention in closing.

Irma Thomas A Woman's Viewpoint, Kent Soul, 2005. I didn't find this until 2006. It features remastered recordings from the 1970s, mainly things she did with producer Jerry Williams, the Swamp Dogg, that were released on Fungus, Roker, and Canyon, including her Fungus LP, In Between Tears. There's also an unissued cut, plus several single sides from RCS, produced by John Fred in the late 1970s (some of which were also on an RCS LP).

After The Rain, Rounder, 2006. Simply the best Irma album in years. She is backed by some of New Orleans' and Louisiana's finest musicians on these recordings done right down the road from me at Dockside Studio, in Maurice, Louisiana. First class stuff that further proves New Orleans music lives.