9 p.m. Wednesday
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- Photo by Michael Regan
- Alec Ounsworth recorded his solo release in New Orleans.
It's telling that the first news of Mo Beauty (Anti-) — the October solo debut by Alec Ounsworth, frontman of Philadelphia's Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — came not via a music blog or Pitchfork.com, but rather the Web site of local brass-kickers Bonerama.
"Today, Wed., the Bonerama horns, Mark (Mullins), Greg (Hicks) and I, played a session with Alec Ounsworth," trombonist Craig Klein wrote on May 27, 2009. "Alec has been in town for the last week or so recording a solo record. ... Mark wrote some killer bone parts for 3 songs and we spent most of the day recording."
Klein's post went on to reveal several juicy details about the project: Multi-instrumentalist Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) was producing the LP and playing backup with an unlikely cast of New Orleans luminaries: George Porter Jr. (Meters) on bass, Stanton Moore (Galactic) on drums and Robert Walter (Greyboy Allstars) on keys and others.
Ounsworth achieved considerable Internet fame by self-releasing CYHSY's two homemade rock records, 2005's eponymous debut and the 2007 follow-up Some Loud Thunder. He met Berlin and Bonerama in December 2008 when the artists shared a bill for Tipitina's Musicians Bringing Musicians Home benefit concert. Six months later, they reconvened as bandmates in Mark Bingham's Piety Street studio.
"It's kind of a curious thing, isn't it?" says Ounsworth, 32. "I wanted to go to New Orleans and get a sampling of a lot of the talents in the city. ... The idea of pulling in a lot of guests on a record, it just seemed like the right move. Because New Orleans is the right place to go if you want to just wander over to Frenchmen Street and say, 'Wow, that guy Washboard Chaz, he's really something. Maybe he's available.'"
The players fell into place like dominoes. Moore was first — an accidental discovery at the Mother-in-Law Lounge, Ounsworth says. "I said (to Berlin), 'That drummer at the Mother-in-Law, he was really something.' I didn't even know it was Stanton. He said, 'That was Stanton Moore.' And I was like, 'OK, well, that's probably why I thought he was pretty good.' Next thing I know, Stanton's on."
Moore brought Walter into the fold, and next Porter. "Then I was like, 'Oh my God, now I'm a little intimidated,'" Ounsworth says, laughing. "That was kind of the initial group, and really the foundation. Everybody else was kind of auxiliary — they came in as needed if we thought we needed something on this particular song, or if we were hoping to exhibit certain talents on certain songs."
The marriage of the musicians with Ounsworth's dramatic songwriting and fluttering voice results in a fascinatingly diverse, often daring album. Fans of CYHSY's fist-pumping anthems and Frenchmen Street's impromptu jams will find tracks at both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between: On the airy "Obscene Queen Bee #2," a slow-building vocal line does somersaults atop noodling electric guitar and acrobatic percussion; "Idiots in the Rain" could be a jazzy pick-up gig at the Spotted Cat; and the lurching, Toussaint-like horn stomp of "That Is Not My Home (After Bruegel)" is a thrilling homage to the musical history of Ounsworth's adopted creative home.
"It feels very comfortable," he says of New Orleans. "You know how you get off the plane in a certain city and you don't have to go to any tourist spot or fancy restaurant — it's as easy as coming to the city and getting off the plane. There's a feeling of comfort. That doesn't happen very often. In fact, there are just a handful of cities where I feel comfortable around the world, and New Orleans is one of them. Always has been."