Music To Your Ears
A New Orleans and Louisiana playlist for road trips, picnics and other summer fun
One of life’s great pleasures is cuing up a favorite band’s tunes or a killer playlist into the appropriate device, popping a CD in the stereo, or an album onto the turntable and getting lost in the sounds. A road trip, cleaning house, house parties, workdays and pretty much any and everything is made better with music. As the writer of the monthly Read + Spin feature in New Orleans Magazine, I scour the city and state for new albums by New Orleans and Louisiana musicians each month, so with summer in full swing, I thought I’d compile highlights from the past year of write ups for your listening pleasure.
Three-time Grammy Award-winning Dee Dee Bridgewater releases her first album since 2010, “Dee Dee’s Feathers,” on OKeh Records Aug. 7. The soulful CD also is the singer-songwriter’s first collaboration with Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. With standards, including “What a Wonderful World” and “Do Whatcha Wanna,” woven together with new songs, including the mambo-beat infused title track, “Dee Dee’s Feathers,” the album is a summer playlist in and of itself.
Seva Venet, “Revisiting New Orleans String Bands: 1880-1949,” is a must-have for any traditional New Orleans jazz lover’s music library. Venet is the leader of the Storyville Stringband and conducts educational workshops on traditional New Orleans jazz at venues such as Preservation Hall.
The Branford Marsalis Quartet re-released its “Coltrane’s A Love Supreme: Live in Amsterdam” DVD and CD in the spring. It celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1965 release of the original John Coltrane “A Love Supreme,” album. This complete performance by Marsalis and his quartet was performed at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis in March 2003 and is a must-have for the collections of fans of Coltrane and Marsalis.
Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swingers released its latest effort “#imsoneworleans,” earlier this year. The smooth, swingy title track, “I’m So New Orleans,” along with the catchy “Tipitina” and a gospel-tinged rendition of “At Last,” featuring Nayo Jones, will stick in your mind-radio for days. Recorded at Music Shed Studios, the album includes guest appearances by June Yamagishi, Britney Chauntae and other notable New Orleans musicians.
If you’re jonesing for a fix of the Jazz manouche stylings of Frenchman Street stalwarts the New Orleans Swinging Gypsies, now you don’t even have to leave your house – unless you want to. The group released its self-titled album “New Orleans Swinging Gypsies,” but be advised that its la pompe-filled eight tracks serves more as an amuse bouche than an entrée, and likely will send you in search of the dimly lit corner of a Marigny jazz club for another hot helping.
The wait is over with the first release in three years by Grammy Award-winning, local institution Rebirth Brass Band and its release, “Move Your Body." The party is still goin’ on with original jams like “Who’s Rockin’, Who’s Rollin,” where they kick out the Afro-Caribbean beats. In the masterful cover, “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” the band flexes its musical muscles to remind us they can make any song their own. In the title track, Rebirth tells us to move and if you aren’t dancing to this 11-track party train, you clearly aren’t listening. Forget the time-consuming playlist making, for your next gathering, insert Rebirth, press play and enjoy the insta-funk of New Orleans’ booty-shake makin’ music masters.
Look for the Concord Records debut of six-time Grammy winning, Crescent City son Dr. John. “Ske-Dat-De-Dat … The Spirit Of Satch,” pays tribute to legendary New Orleans vocalist and trumpeter, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Dr. John met Armstrong only once in his lifetime, but the impression clearly stayed with him. With a lineup of all-star singers including Bonnie Raitt, Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters and the Blind Boys of Alabama, and trumpeters such as Arturo Sandoval and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, lending their talents to the effort, the jazzy tome also serves as a veritable who’s who of blues, gospel, jazz and R&B.
Fixtures on the national alt-pop stage throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, New Orleans-based Better Than Ezra released its first studio album in five years. “All Together Now,” is a slick, electro-pop-infused effort from the trio best known for hits such as “Good” and “Desperately Wanting.” The first single on the album, “Crazy Lucky,” dropped prior to the full album and sets the up-beat tone and tempo. The band recorded “All Together Now” in Los Angeles for six weeks with Beck as well as Phoenix producer Tony Hoffer. Fans of the band’s earlier work will gravitate toward the grittier track “Sunflowers,” featuring heavy guitar licks reminiscent of indie darlings Spoon and devoid of the more overt electronic flavor ever-present on other tracks.
ROCK AND COUNTRY
Louisiana-native Jerry Lee Lewis’ Memphis-recorded album, “Rock & Roll Time,” features collaborations with musical greats across multiple genres, including Keith Richards, Neil Young, Ivan Neville and Shelby Lynn. With songs spanning the catalogs of greats such as Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and Chuck Berry, the Killer flexes his musical muscle with old-school favorites and lesser-known treasures. His bluesy rendition of the title track, Kristofferson’s “Rock & Roll Time,” opens with Lewis’ signature piano playing, combining slide guitar and vocal harmonies drawing from country and gospel.
The funk-infused Royal Southern Brotherhood’s “Don’t Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions,” is the third studio album for the supergroup led by bandleader Cyril Neville. With new guitarists Tyrone Vaughan (son of Jimmy Vaughan and nephew of blues icon Stevie Ray Vaughan) and the classically trained Bart Walker joining the fold, expect a heavier, funk vibe than prior efforts.
The influences of Hank Williams Sr., John Prine and Woody Guthrie are palpable when you tune into music by The Deslondes (formerly Tumbleweeds). The New Orleans band’s debut album with New West Records is due out this month. If the tracks, including “Fought the Blues and Won” and “The Real Deal,” are any indication, every living room in the city will be piping pedal steel and surf organ-infused honky tonk blues through the airwaves. Polish up your two-step, friends.
After a seven-year hiatus, Mahayla is back and better than ever serving up pitch perfect American alt rock on its release, “Electricspaceagesweetheart.” If you yearn for the catchy licks and lyrics of bands like Cracker, with whom they’ve shared the stage, make this album your summer soundtrack.
Gritty beats permeate “NY to NOLA,” the first track on “Redemption,” released this month by Glen David Andrews. A member of the famous New Orleans musical family and cousin of Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, the musician also had frequent appearances playing himself on HBO’s “Treme,” series. Andrews sticks to his Blues, Jazz, Gospel and R&B roots in this project chronicling his journey through addiction, hell, salvation and redemption. Listen for guest stars Ivan Neville, Ben Ellman and Anders Osborne, while funkin’ out to raw grooves.
The cheerful three-part harmonies of the Boswell Sisters, render one hard pressed to sit still. Swingy jazz vocals bounce along like their quick jump to stardom. The classically-trained sisters were heavily influenced by hometown New Orleans Jazz and performed and recorded on the stage, radio and later TV with heavy-hitters like Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington. With career’s spanning from the 1920s through Connie Boswell’s solo career in the ’60s, their legacy burns bright. Get the three-CD set of their music at the Historic New Orleans Collection.
Soulful songstress Kristin Diable released her third album, “Create Your Own Mythology” in February. The Baton Rouge-native is based in New Orleans, where in January she shot the video for, “I’ll Make Time for You,” the first single off of the new album. Comparisons to another soulful Louisiana singer songwriter, Lucinda Williams, are inevitable, especially since Diable has opened for the legendary Lake Charles-born performer. A sprinkle of Motown flavor, sensual grooves and a forceful voice distinguish Diable’s music from Williams’ throaty refrains. Locals likely are familiar with Diable from her turn on the Jazz Fest stage and music scene staples, such as One Eyed Jacks.
Shreveport-born singer and songwriter Kelcy Mae is touring in support of her 2014 double EP release Half-Light. Catchy melodies are infused with the New Orleans-based musician’s bluegrass, country and rock influences, and its expressive lyrics reflect her creative writing background (Disclosure, Mae writes for New Orleans Magazine publisher, Renaissance Publishing LLC).
It has been years since Louisiana-born Lucinda Williams – known for her weathered, bluesy voice and poetic tales of grit, suffering and survival – released an album. Which makes her 11th, the double CD, "Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone," an even sweeter proposition for Williams’ fans. The 20-song opus is laden with original, soul-filled tracks, save the song “Compassion,” adapted from a poem by her late father, poet and former Loyola professor Miller Williams and a cover of “Magnolia,” by J.J. Cale. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Williams credits the South, a stream of collaborators, singers, songwriters and her co-producer husband, Tom Overby as inspiration. Williams’ weary voice cuts through lush lyrics woven into tales familiar to most southerners, but spun in a way that’s so distinct to the singer-songwriter.
In his first solo album for Warner Classics, “Héroïque: French Opera Arias,” American tenor and New Orleans native Bryan Hymel delivers powerful and passionate performances. The strength of his voice and ease with which he delivers even the highest high notes is worth the price of admission, but in Hymel listeners get not only technical precision, but also dramatic, emotion-filled style. A fast-rising star, Hymel is the go-to tenor for challenging French repertoire. He is the winner of the 2013 Olivier award for Outstanding Achievement in Opera for a trio of performances in Les Troyens, Robert le diable and Rusalka at London’s Royal Opera House. He has performed in top opera houses throughout the world. He studied at the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia under Bill Schuman. Upcoming performances include his house debuts in Les Troyens at the San Francisco Opera in June and in La Damnation de Faust at the Opéra National de Paris.