What We Are Listening To
My Feel Can’t Fail Me Now by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band – This is their debut album when they were still calling themselves a “brass” band. It contains the classic recordings that established their reputation – “Blackbird Special”, “Do It Fluid”, “Bongo Beep”, “Caravan”, “Li’l Liza Jane”, and, of course, the title track. More than any other album, this one revolutionized the sound of brass band music in New Orleans.
Here I Go Again by Jack Neilson – The late Jack Neilsen was a sadly under-appreciated New Orleans musician. As good as the music scene is in New Orleans, it has a hard time supporting (and sometimes even just acknowledging) anyone working in the singer-songwriter genre. He in general and this album in particular are quintessential examples of that problem. When it was released, the local press on the album was condescending and clueless. It’s a shame. The album is gorgeous. The lagniappe here is guest appearances by some New Orleans fixtures – Dave Easley, Beth Patterson, and David Torkanowsky.
Sanctified! Gospel From New Orleans – a great live recording on the Tipitina’s label. It includes some well-known New Orleans singers – Johnny Adams, Marva Wright, and Joe “Cool” Davis – and some samples of massed choirs – Val & the Love Alive Fellowship Choir and the Dimensions of Faith, in particular. The latter two groups are frequent performers in the gospel tent at Jazz Fest. As soon as the Dimensions of Faith kick off “Sign My Name”, you will be on your feet with your hands in the air!
Feel Like Funkin’ It Up – Rebirth Brass Band – This is their debut album on Rounder Records which caught them at an early peak and, outside of a compilation, probably contains the best collection of classic recordings – one of the more exuberant of the many versions of “Do Watcha Wanna”, “Big Chief”, “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up”, “Leave That Pipe Alone”, and others. The lagniappe is that this was recorded when Kermit Ruffins was still in the band.
Shake That Thing – Preservation Hall Jazz Band – There’s no better demonstration than that, really, there isn’t just one Preservation Hall Jazz Band and most of the variations are delightful. This an album filled with tunes very identified with New Orleans played by a variety of stellar musicians that frequently bring some unique and infectious twists to the arrangements (“Eh La Bas”, “Little Liza Jane”, …). Dave defies y’all not to sing along with “Eh La Bas”!
The Best Three Hours Of Radio Anywhere In The Country – weeknights on WWOZ from 7:00 to 10:00 P.M. Normally, this is supposed to be a combination of classic rock ‘n’ roll (old stuff), blues, and rhythm ‘n’ blues, but you might hear anything fall out of the closet. Best of an outstanding lot is the kick-off for the week, Gentilly Junior on Mondays.
Live At The Village Vanguard / Wynton Marsalis Septet – The best jazz is live jazz and this 7 CD set is great documentation of some of the most vibrant. It captures three different but overlapping Marsalis septets over a 4 year span. With this much time for music, it clearly covers a lot of ground – standards, jazz classics, tunes from band members, and many of Marsalis’ own signature tunes. There’s straight-ahead blowing and some songs with an identifiably New Orleans pedigree. … enough music to play it every night of the week!
The Classic / Ellis Marsalis – Dave recommends these recordings from early 1963 – both good jazz and excellent documentation of the modern jazz scene in New Orleans when it was overlooked by the rest of the country. It’s largely a re-issue of the album Monkey Puzzle with additional tracks. This album is full of New Orleans modern jazz standards, including “Monkey Puzzle”, “Whistle Stop”, “Dee Wee”, “12’s It”, “Swingin’ At The Haven”, and “Little Joy”. The lagniappe here is James Black as a drummer and composer, particularly his “Magnolia Triangle”, where only the most adroit soloists escape alive. Much thanks to AFO Records for keeping the music alive, then and now!
The Best Two Hours Of Radio Anywhere In The Country – American Routes with Nick Spitzer – A syndicated radio program that originates in New Orleans. The show features a heavy dose of New Orleans music and performers but doesn’t limit itself to that. There’s all sorts of roots music and entertaining & informative interviews. Locally, it’s on WWNO, 89.9 FM, from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. on Sunday evenings.
Zydeco’s Greatest Hits on EasyDisc (a Rhino subsidiary) – If you own only one zydeco disc, this is a great candidate for the one. It’s almost all classics: “Give Him Cornbread” by Beau Jocque, “French Rockin’ Boogie” by Geno Delafose, “My Toot Toot” by Rockin’ Sidney, “Hot Tamale Baby” by Clifton Chenier, “Turning Point” by Buckwheat Zydeco, “Uncle Bud” by Boozoo Chavis, and 4 other tracks. It’s a little dated as far as keeping up with current styles (1996 release), but these tracks never go out of style. The lagniappe is that it’s on Rhino Record’s budget line – Easy Disc.
New Orleans Party Classics on Rhino – … is exactly what the title says. This collection spans recordings from the 50s to the 90s in multiple genres – rhythm ‘n’ blues, rock ‘n’ roll, Mardi Gras Indians, and brass bands. This is the perfect album to put on when you need to pump it up for a New Orleans’ themed party. The lagniappe is that it is part of Rhino’s budget line – cheaper than should be allowed!
Highlights from “Crescent City Soul” – The Sound of New Orleans 1947-1974 – This covers some of the same ground as The Cosimo Matassa Story but is a lot richer in classics (“all killa, no filla”), partly because it’s a sampling of the larger 4-CD set just labeled Crescent City Soul.
And how rich it is – the iconic recordings by Clarence Garlow, The Spiders, Shirley & Lee, Amos Milburn, Dave Bartholomew, Bobby Mitchell, Jessie Hill, Earl King, Ernie K-Doe, Barbara George, and Benny Spellman. Plus, it has the three recordings by Smiley Lewis that became classics when covered by others (“Blue Monday”, “One Night”, and “I Hear You Knocking”) and the hits that made ‘Fats’ Domino’s reputation – “The Fat Man”, “Ain’t That A Shame”, “I’m Walkin’”, and “Walkin’ To New Orleans”. Wow.
Goin’ Back To New Orleans by Dr. John – “The best-ever Dr. John album” claims Dave and who could disagree. It’s named for the title track written and originally recorded by Joe Liggins. On this album, Dr. John successfully spans a vast range of New Orleans music. He starts with a song inspired by the writing of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (19th century classical New Orleans composer and piano god!) and follows with quintessential samples of many genres. When he represents the Mardi Gras Indians, he doesn’t just use any of their well-known repertoire. He uses “Indian Red” – the song that calls out various tribes. When he represents ‘Jelly Roll’ Morton, he uses “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say” – Morton’s classic about arguably the first jazz musician.
It all builds up to the title track that includes guest appearances by the Neville Brothers, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, and Danny Barker, and the impossibly hip drum groove of Freddie Staehle.
The lagniappe on this album is the cover photo of Dr. John wearing a Mardi Gras Indian suit made by Big Chief Smiley Ricks.
At The Foot Of Canal Street by John Boutte – John is now best known for the theme to HBO’s Treme, but has been a local favorite for years. This particular album dates from 1998. It’s got a great sampling of New Orleans flavored tunes (“Sisters”, …), gospel (“At The Foot Of Canal Street”, “Battle Hymn Of The Republic”, “Didn’t It Rain”,”Just A Little While …”), and jazz standards (“Black Orpheus”, Someone To Watch Over Me”, …)”. “John’s rich voice is uplifting” says New Orleans Music tour guide Will Norris, “but he can tear your heart out too. He’s got it.”
The lagniappe on this one is the presence of Bill Huntington, Dave’s favorite bass player that used to live and play in New Orleans. “Huntington didn’t play notes so much as place each and every one — a foundation so robust that other musicians could build anything on top of it.” Dave suggests you check out the richness of sound on his opening to “Didn’t It Rain”.
Boutte can be heard early most Saturday evenings at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street.
The Cosimo Matassa Story by Proper Records – This 4 CD set is a great immersion in the “New Orleans Sound” and the product of the man who was instrumental in creating it. “This compilation is probably best for the real music wonks, for a couple of reasons” explains Dave. “It’s 4 discs of music, so it’s not something for a casual listen. Also, it is missing a few of the most iconic recordings from Matassa’s studios, primarily because they are in other Proper compilations.”
However, if a listener has the stamina, they will be rewarded with some classics:
“Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry
“Blue Monday” and “I Hear You Knockin'” and “Shame, Shame, Shame” by Smiley Lewis
“Mardi Gras Mambo” by The Hawkettes (early Art Neville!)
“My Ding-A-Ling” by Dave Bartholomew and “Reeling and Rocking” by ‘Fats’ Domino
“New Bon Ton Roulay” by Clarence Garlow
“The Things That I Used To Do” by Guitar Slim (with Ray Charles on piano)
“Tipitina” by Professor Longhair
“Tutti Fruitti” (and much, much more) by Little Richard
… and many, many more treasures.
The Lagniappe on this one is that the set is very affordable, as are most Proper Records products.
Behind The Levee by the subdudes – If you own only one album by the subdudes, Dave suggests it be this one. The combination of playing, voices, and material have never been better. All of the songs except for one were written by the band members. There’s some bittersweet irony in the title because it was recorded a few months before Hurricane Katrina but not released ’til the following year.
The lagniappe on this album is the production work by Keb Mo’.