February 10, 2008

Random Reviews Of 2007 Releases + Cool Boogaloo

If you've been hanging around for a while, you know that very occasionally I do some reviews of more recent HOTG releases. Way back, I did an early review of the second Bonerama CD and the release party, too. Then there was my review of the Dirty Dozen's What's Goin' On and interview with Roger Lewis; and, of course, this past year I featured a track from and reviewed Papa Mali's latest CD, Do Your Thing (see below). Also, about a year ago, I did some mini-reviews of releases I found notable looking back on 2006. Besides the never-ending quest for rare and/or rarely heard New Orleans-related vinyl, I keep buying new stuff by New Orleans artists, plus CD re-issue comps of old material, and encourage you all to do the same. I'm going to try the short review format again - but, frankly, I just don't have time to write much about current releases. My focus remains on old vinyl grooves with stories to tell or be discovered. Several of this latest batch of mainly 2007 CDs were sent to me by bands or labels; and they are always welcome. If you send them, I will get to them as I can. If I dig 'em, a cut very likely will be added to the streaming playlist (now about a 20 hour loop with no repeats) at HOTG Internet Radio. And, I will continue to add audio from my posts and more recent music there, including cuts from the reviewed CDs below.

One mo' thing. if an when you buy some of these CDs, I urge you to listen to them when possible on decent speakers hooked to an amp with some punch. I know I am in my geezerhood and all; but the ridiculously compressed audio of mp3s and tiny headphones or computer speakers does not cut it for anything more than very casual listening. The music and computer manufacturing industries don't give a flip about sound quality, a/k/a high fidelity. An entire generation has grown up thinking what currently passes for audio emanating from iPods, phones and hard drives, is all there is. Always get as full a hit of the music as possible (live, of course, being best, if the sound crew aren't deaf as posts). The mp3s I post are for reference purposes only and and not meant to convey the full range audio that a decent turntable or CD deck, amp and speakers can deliver. Sermon over. So, without further doo-doo, here's a list in no particular order of some of the most remarkable stuff on CD I scored this past year, with my brief (you can always hope) comments.

Bringing It Home (Independent 2007) - A band that has recorded all three of its CDs live, these guys (four trombones, sousaphone, guitar, and trap drums) have balls, as well as bells, of brass. Each CD reflects their maturation as players and a band, totally comfortable blending New Orleans second lining, R&B riffing, jazz chops and classic rock into a mind-bending amalgam that doesn't implode into chaos or fit neatly into a niche. Sure, things can be overblown sometimes,when they are cranking live on some Ozzy, Zep or Allman Brothers number. Playing at Tipitina's, Uptown New Orleans, where excess ain't wretched, it's expected, it's all just part of the party. Otherwise, the funk quotient is high outside of the zomboid classic radio numbers, especially on the originals, and is intensified further here by Stanton Moore's guesting on drums. My favorite cut is an original with an uncommon sound for the band, "Equale", written by one of the bonemen, Steve Suter. It has an intro and interludes that are quiet, stately, almost classical, only to break out into a swinging jazz/funk groove with horn voicings that would not be out of place as an instrumental interlude at a Steely Dan concert. And that's meant to be a compliment. Another pretty friggin' awesome performance, from the dedicated boner brotherhood, as their many fans have come to expect. Catch 'em on tour.

George Porter, Jr,
It's Life (Transvideo 2007) - Quite simply the best solo effort to date for the master bassist with fine songs, including some Meters covers, great players and playing throughout. Yes, George's vocal range is limited; but he is supremely comfortable with his singing these days and uses his voice effectively. Several years in the making, this CD was produced, arranged and mixed to perfection by the man himself with assists from David Torkanowsky and Tracy Griffin, who also lend instrumental support. We should all be grateful that George's studio was on the second floor when Katrina came to town and left the water running. His tapes and equipment were spared; and he got to finish this project and remind the world that he's a multi-talented artist in his own right, whose side projects just happen to be the original Meters, the Funky Meters, and Porter, Batiste, and Stoltz (PBS). Funk quotient? Need you ask?

Gov't Majik - The Dirty South Afro-Beat Arkestra, reality (it hits you...) [Independent 2007] - An impressive new New Orleans group I heard at Jazzfest 2007. The descriptive part of their name gives you a clue to what they are getting at. Live, their performance was
powerful, loaded with horns and percussion, and made this debut CD - more of an EP, really - seem laid back by comparison. Still, nice, lilting grooves and ample, multi-percussive afro-funk can be found here. Every once in a while you half expect Fela to start singing. I really hope they are still together (they're still up at MySpace). The city doesn't have anything else quite like 'em.

Dumpstaphunk, Listen Hear (DP Records 2007) - Positively dripping with and reeking of stanky fonk, this is a brief (5 songs) introduction to keyboardist/lead vocalist Ivan Neville's joint venture with two former members of the Neville Brothers band (Tony Hall and Nick Daniels), along with his cousin Ian (Art's kid) on guitar, and former Monster Gentleman, Raymond Weber, on kick-ass drums. A heavy duty group to be reckoned with, their grooves are wickedly performance enhanced, hitting high hard ones way, way out da park all night long. Making up for his early years wandering in the pop/rock wilderness, Ivan returned to his hometown and to funk with a vengeance, re-invigorating the family namesake band of his father and uncles, and loosing Dumpstaphunk on local booties always ready, willing and able to be shaken. I try to catch these gents live as often as I can - as that's the best way to experience this intense music. They always manage to blow me away. Sometimes both Nick and Tony double up on basses, sometimes Tony plays second guitar. Also, Nick is also one of the most underrated singers in the city who deserves a few more leads. The CD hits you from the get-go with an honest handful of what they are all about, spiffed up here and there with some well-placed horns (not usually with them live) and leaves you wanting more. That'll have to do until they go all the way. Then, look out.

Various Artists,
Crescent City Soul Patrol: 22 Dancefloor Sounds From New Orleans (grapevine 2006) - Allow me for a moment to sing the praises of Mr. Gary J. Cape, who runs gapevine and related labels and is simply a master of the re-issue. His products are top notch from song selection and sound quality, to liner notes and packaging. Though not confined only to HOTG artists, grapevine's New Orleans titles should be part of the collections of anybody reading this who really wants to dig down into a rich trove of the city's seldom heard old school music. Even an avid vinyl collector can't own every record. Thus, compilations become an important resource for hearing and learning about tracks and artists that are hard to find on the original 45s (let alone afford). This CD offers various, mainly Crescent City tracks cut between the mid-1960s and early 1980s that appeared on various labels and were aimed more or less at the urban mainstream. Though some funk can certainly be found here and there, this is a wide-ranging sampling of grooves and provides an excellent overview of some of the quality singles that continued coming out in New Orleans even after its hey-day of hit-making. My faves on this set are the ones I had never heard before: Daisy Burris on Toussaint's "Four Strong Winds"; Inell Young on Eddie Bo's "I've Never Considered"; The Philharmonics, featuring the great Phillip Manuel, on "I Need, I Need Your Love"; Percy Stone with the Explosions doing Bo's "Chained", Tavasco singing a Zig Modeliste-penned dancer, "Love Is Trying to Get A Hold On Me"; and Pro-Fascination, a version of the Barons, with the impressive "Try Love Again". Just remarkable stuff. Revelatory even.

Various Artists,
Sound City Soul Brothers - Ted Taylor * Reuben Bell * Eddie Giles (Soulscape, 2007) - Speaking of revelations, Mr. Cape strikes again. In my humble opinion, a hands down brilliant compilation that features all but forgotten music from the Shreveport, LA Alarm label. Cape has chosen to focus on tracks from the three named high quality Southern soul vocalists who recorded for Alarm between 1975 to 1979, as they cut the majority of tracks for the label. I featured Ted Taylor's way funky Alarm side, "Somebody's Gettin' It" here several years ago. At the time, I though the session players were likely bassist Louis Villery and members of his African Sound Machine that worked out of Sound City Studios, the home base of Alarm; but Paul Mooney's informative CD notes reveal that members of the Malaco studio band, including drummer James Stroud, bassists Vern Robbins and Don Barrett, guitarist Dino Zimmerman, and keyboardist Carson Whitsett, regularly commuted to Shreveport from Jackson,MS to play many of these sessions. And, while I knew that Wardell Quezergue produced and arranged many of Taylor's sessions for the label, I found out from the notes that he oversaw much of the output on Reuben Bell, as well. Especially on some of the Taylor and Giles sides, there is some serious funk in the grooves; but many of the tunes in the collection are steeped in deep Southern soul. I am most impressed by Eddie (a/k/a Eddy) Giles here, mainly because I had never heard his Alarm material before, most of which wasn't issued. If you are a fan of Southern soul music of this era, I don't think you can go wrong with a package like this. The audio quality of the transfers is near about perfect. Another inspiring reason to keep buying CDs.

Li'l Queenie & The Percolators,
Home (Diva, 2007) - For those of you who weren't hanging around the New Orleans/Gulf Coast area in the late 1970s when this band all too briefly ruled, it may be hard to explain their allure. You can hear a side from their one single, "My Darlin' New Orleans", in rotation on the hotg.org webcast; and I'll likely have another track from them spinning there shortly, too. Until then, maybe it will help if you know that the Percolators were a precursor of sorts to the Subdudes. Both keyboard player John Magnie and guitarist Tommy Malone were part of chanteuse Leigh 'Li'l Queenie' Harris' contingent about a decade before they started the 'dudes. As a matter of fact, you can find a nice history of LQ&TP on the subdudes' website. Anyway, I grabbed this CD at the Louisiana Music Factory at Jazzfest time last year, delighted to find great sounding vintage studio and live tracks by the band available after only a three decades wait, give or take. Damn, they sound even better than I remembered them, too. This is a definite must for fans of the band and a definite maybe for the uninitiated. Take a chance. It's soulful, funky and rockin' stuff, often simultaneously. I put it on and flash back to standing in a long line waiting to get in to see 'em at the newly opened Tipitina's...after that, things get a little hazy. . . .but the music was and is kickin'. Thanks to Leigh and John for finally getting this out.

The Wild Magnolias,
They Call Us Wild (Universal Music France, 2007) - Don't let the title fool you, this is a re-mastered double CD re-issue of both of their Barclay LPs, The Wild Magnolias and They Call Us Wild, from 1974 and 1975, which were produced and released in Europe by Philippe Rault, arranged by Willie Tee, who also led the band and wrote numerous tunes, and recorded at Studio In The Country in Bogalusa, LA. This set came out first in Europe and included a 36 page book with a general history of the Indians, the Wild Magnolias' story, details of the recordings, lyrics, and lots of great photographs; but it was pricey. For the US version, the book is included as a PDF file on the second CD - actually its two PDFs, one high resolution and one lower. Both look great. The story of these historic and entertaining recordings has been told by me and others before; but there are many more details to be learned in the book. My advice on this: buy it immediately. It's probably won't last long. That's just the way it goes with high quality specialty items which (thankfully) aren't geared for the mass market. You've been warned.

Kermit Ruffins,
Live At Vaughan's (Basin Street, 2007) - On a previous live CD, Kermit did a song/rap called "What Is New Orleans" that essentially just listed things and places that make the city uniquely what it. Rightly so, it's a long song. If you are familiar with Kermit, it's easy to see that he too belongs in that number. He's hip, insouciant, a mix of old and new, and overflowing with music. While he's playing a set, the smokey-eyed trumpeter will often have his own barbecue grill going in the back of a pickup truck parked at the curb. That's how he rolls. Starting out young with the Rebirth Brass Band, Kermit went solo years back, at first as a new traditionalist in the Louis Armstrong mold who was always fun-loving and loose about it. Along the way, he has begun to incorporate some jazzy elements of feel-good soul/funk beyond the second line into his repertoire, seamlessly mixing songs spanning a 50 year range in his sets. Live At Vaughan's catches him and his always enjoyable band at one of their regular hometown gigs and is a well-recorded representation of what he's all about. Until you catch one of his shows at the source, which you should, this will suffice. And, by the way, Basin Street Records is still the city's best homegrown label. The flood knocked them down, but they thankfully didn't go under. Check 'em out.

Papa Mali,
Do Your Thing (Fog City, 2007) - See my review.

Andy J. Forest Band,
Real Stories of love, labor, and other man-made catastrophies (Slang, 2007) - This is the third, I think, in a series of Anders Osborne-produced CDs that have totally changed my mind about Andy Forest for the better. Moving beyond mere blues stylings, Forest's music is rootsy and funky; the grooves often intense; the vocals conversational with lyrics at times more like inspired free-form poetry, full of clever, revealing turns of phrase and devoid of cliches. The CD won a Best Of the Beat award this year for best blues album - since they don't really have a category for exactly what this harp-blowing, local hipster with a good-natured bad attitude has to offer. As the CD cover says, "Sounds great at high or low volume. Excellent listening for parties where alcoholic beverages are served." I've tried it under those circumstances and can attest to it's truth in advertising.

Papa Grows Funk,
Mr. Patterson's Hat (funky krewe, 2007) - Always dependable, high quality funk with elements of jazz and rock in the mix from the long-running PGF, who write virtually all their own material. It would be hard not to generate great grooves with Jeffrey 'Jellybean' Alexander on drums - one of the city's finest. All their albums have been good; but, as usual, they are best experienced live. (And, by the way, their previous CD was a live recording.) Minor quibbles: the instrumentals can at times seem indistinguishable from one another - great chops only go so far on a studio recording without more memorable melodies or structure; and vocals from keyboardist John Gros serve their purpose, but are limited in range and dynamics. Of course, both of these points are the case with many high funk factor bands built to jam. With a standout singer, this stuff would be very extremely dangerous, as Eddie Hinton would say - not that it has set these guys back in the least, so far.

Mem Shannon Live,
A Night At Tipitina's (NorthernBlues, 2007) - Though he is marketed as a blues act and just won a Best Of the Beat award for best blues band/performer, singer/guitarist Mem and his great band, the Membership aren't all about the blues. He dishes up lots of soulful, often humorous R&B strong on funk with the expert assistance of Robert Dabon (formerly of Chocolate Milk) on keys, Angelo Nocentelli (Leo's brother) on bass, and Josh Milligan on drums. Mem writes almost all of his own material and has gone far over the years, establishing himself nationwide through continual touring and the release of four prior CDs. I've seen him in clubs numerous times outside of New Orleans, many of those in Memphis, and always enjoy his shows. This live CD finds him at Tipitina's, where he and his band stretch out and do what they do best for the hometown crowd, joined by an outstanding horn section (Joe Cabral of the Iguanas, Jason Mingledorff of Papa Grows Funk, and Tim Green) who know just where to put it. A great night with a bunch of guys who just show up and lay it down, no frills, no phony "how's everybody doing - wave your hands in the air - let me hear you scream" stage banter. Refreshing, and tons of fun.

John Mooney,
Big Ol' Fiya (LML, 2006) - Speaking of the blues....I'm a year late getting to this one. Mooney has spent over three decades, give or take, in New Orleans. A student of Son House back in his native New York state, he came to the Land Of Dreams and managed the amazing feat of merging Delta blues with Professor Longhair funk, giving him a sound like nobody else. His guitar work has always been feral and impressive (best slide this side of Sonny Landreth); and his voice is one of kind, conjured at some swampy crossroads on the hottest night of the year. So, there is always plenty of grit and grease going on in John's songs, whether originals or inspired covers. No doubt, he has made some great records; but I think this is one of his best. He's backed up by the great drumming of Raymond Weber (Dumpstaphunk), with Bunchie Johnson on two cuts, Uganda Roberts (who played with Longhair for years) on congas, Jon Cleary on piano and B-3, and the late, great Jeff Sarli on bass on most cuts. Also significant, the sound of this Mooney-produced CD seriously kicks butt, too. Props to engineer Mark Bingham. I've gotten very picky about blues I pay attention to; and this is just how I want 'em- funky, ferocious, and full o' fiya.

The Bonedaddys,
waterslide (ComboTempo, 2007) - Based in Los Angeles, these guys sent me their CD last year to check out; and I'm glad they did. Not all of it is New Orleans-influenced, but the some that is has got groove ("Makin' Roux", "Blame It On The Moon", "Never Say Goodbye"), as does the rest. This record is a highly percussive roots riot that, when not hitting on the Crescent City, has loads of Latin, some rock, and dashes of reggae and Louisiana zydeco/Cajun, too - all impressively played and well-recorded. Some of the players have ties to West Coast outfits like Eddie Baytos' Nervis Brothers as well as the Phantom Blues Band. I decided to include waterslide simply because it's a great party record guaranteed to get things moving in the right direction.

Various Artists,
Goin' Home: A Tribute To Fats Domino (Vanguard 2007) -A lot has been written about this two CD set; and I hesitated to add my $.02 American. But, I decided to because (a) buying it supports the Tipitina's Foundation cultural projects, including rebuilding Fats' home in da Ninth Ward; (b) I found myself digging much of the album, though I am not a fan of tribute projects. Most of these covers of songs from the Fat Man's repertoire are fine, a few are exceptional. Even the couple that don't appeal to me are well-done. For picky geeks like me, there's more than enough that cooks; and funk flows freely on a number of tracks. Some of of the best involve musical pairings of famous outsiders with local musicians/bands. One improbable one that works surprisingly well is B.B. King backed by Dumpstaphunk (!) on "Goin' Home". Also nice touches are tracks featuring the Skatalites and Toots & the Maytals, a nod to how much Fats (along with Dave Bartholomew and that classic studio band) and New Orleans R&B in general influenced Jamaican music. Yet, to my mind, the cut truest to Fats on the entire set is Art Neville, solo on just vocal and piano belting out "Please Don't Leave Me" - a direct link back to the goodest of old days. Winner of the best R&B/Funk album at the Best Of The Beat.

In the "just got and have only listened once or twice while otherwise distracted" category, let me give honorable mention to:

Theryl 'House Man' DeClouet,
The Truth Iz Out (Independent, 2007) - Smoove (not a typo), effective soul/funk grooves pretty much all the way from this longtime New Orleans vocalist and songwriter, who sang with Galactic for a spell and had a nice solo CD back in 2001. Lots of nice in-the pocket tunes written by the Houseman and/or others. Great players and sonics. I'll be spinning this one more for sure.

Matt Perrine,
Sunflower City (Independent, 2007) - The first flower to reappear in the New Orleans neighborhoods devastated by floodwaters, where most of the vegetation died off, was the sunflower, growing wild. It has become the unofficial symbol for the slow rebirth of the city. Continuing the musical restoration, sousaphonist extraordinaire Matt Perrine (Bonerama) and his myriad musical friends re-assert New Orleans' rightful place as the Northernmost city of the Caribbean, bringing the island influence back into original New Orleans jazz a la Creole, and giving some classic calypsos the Sunflower City treatment. There are tasty originals and covers of classics ("Muskrat Ramble" reborn!), all with incredible arrangements from Mister P, who can hang with the big boys anytime.

And, last but not least. . . .
The Grip,
Grab This Thing (Archer Records, 2007) - OK. I'm going outside the concept here to plug an EP that some friends of mine in Memphis are involved in. It's a side project that has taken on a life of its own. When these guys weren't playing in their regular bands, they started gigging on a weeknight at a sidestreet club in Midtown Memphis called the Buccaneer Lounge. Calling themselves, The Grip, and using assumed (amused?) names, they began to groovilate on hot instrumental boogaloo music as a fourpiece: organ, drums, tenor sax, and guitar. And they are still at it, as time permits. Last year, they put out this short CD, plus a 45 (!), on Archer Records, Memphis' best independent label (and I don't say that just because I've known the owner for 30 years and he's hired me to write some liner notes before - much to his regret I am sure). It's right up my alley; so I asked Ward Archer and the band to let me post a cut from Grab This Thing - and they graciously consented. So, here ya go:

"Tutwiler" (Al Gamble)
(Tune in to HOTG Internet Radio)

Written by keyboardist Al Gamble, "Tutwiler" is a cookin' funk boogie near to my heart, as that is the name of the street I lived on in Memphis before I moved to Louisiana. It reminds me of the many cool instrumentals Al and saxman Art Edmaiston used to write when they were playing in the Gamble Brothers Band full time. Both Art and Grip drummer, George Sluppick, tour with JJ Grey and MOFRO these days. George is a fine Memphis funk player who has done duty in the past with Albert King and Robert Walter's 20th Congress. Rounding out the basic ensemble with heat and taste, is guitarist Joe Restivo. They were joined in the studio by Marc Franklin on trumpet and trombone, and Andy Oltremari on congas, who further intensified the sound.

The rest of the tunes on the CD are well-chosen covers, ranging from the Mar-Keys title track to Prince and....Ennio Morricone. You read me right. All of the band's material has the spirit and feel of the cool organ combo stuff from that time around 40 years back when R&B, funk and jazz were first mixing it up. But The Grip still keep it soundng fresh. I have yet to hear them live, but it'll happen, believe me. On the back of the CD it says "Volume One". So, I'm looking forward to the next installment already. Make it soon, fellas.


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