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Hot Sounds on Cold Nights

A trio of new Louisiana CDs for the season

by and

If New Orleans' colder winter temperatures are keeping you inside more these days, what better time to listen to some Louisiana music to warm up the household? Here are three recent CDs recommended by Gambit Weekly:

Sonny Landreth
The Road We're On
(Sugar Hill)

When it comes to making albums, Sonny Landreth doesn't have a reputation for working quickly. He took three years between 1992's Outward Bound and 1995's South of I-10, then spent half a decade working on 2000's Levee Town, an ambitious story cycle that felt labored over. It's hard to fault him for his perfectionism; while Landreth's primary reputation is as a slide guitar player extraordinaire, he's obsessive about the craft of songwriting. So it's surprising that he worked up his new CD, The Road We're On, in just a couple of years -- and the fresh immediacy of this creative burst comes pulsing through the grooves of Landreth's hottest record in a decade.

Landreth has tended to favor sweeping Band-inspired narratives on past albums, but The Road We're On packs a number of direct images and sentiments that pay homage to Landreth's blues and zydeco roots. He conjures up some serious National guitar tone on the opening scorcher "True Blue"; "A World Away " and "Fallin' For You" are minor-key blues in the great tradition of B.B. King; and the roaring slide work on "The Gemini Song" is a tip of the hat to Elmore James.

Landreth is always mindful of his Louisiana heritage and paying appropriate musical tribute, and that mission produces two gems here: the title track's barreling locomotive zydeco rhythms, and the Cajun rock and witticism of "Gone Pecan." Throughout the CD, Landreth's unique fretting-behind-the-slide technique conjures up the otherworldly sound that's his trademark -- and it sounds fresher than ever on The Road We're On. -- Jordan


New Orleans Gospel Quartets
(504 Records)

Before the onset of today's leviathan choirs, the Lord's music was sung across the South by the gospel quartet -- hundreds of them. New Orleans Gospel Quartets 1947-1956, compiled by local scholar Lynn Abbott and originally released on LP in l985, is a terrific survey of seven such groups.

It's fascinating to read the stories behind these singers, to be reminded of the connection between the gospel, jazz and R&B idioms. To wit: the Delta Southernaires evolved into the Spiders; the New Orleans Humming Four recorded for Dave Bartholomew's Imperial label before being transformed into the R&B group the Hawks. Professor Longhair had a brief connection with the Soul Comforters, and traditional jazzman Albert "Papa" French's sister, Alberta Johnson, led one of the few women's choirs, the Southern Harps. As usual with our city, it seems it's all family or someone you grew up with.

The recording quality here is low- to mid-fi, but if you've read this far you're probably more interested in heartfelt singing than sonic perfection. If you give these songs a listen or two they get their hooks into you. The timelessness of this four-part a cappella singing shines through on every track, and rewards those who delve into the lives and sounds from the apex of this near-extinct genre. -- McDermott


Marc Broussard
Momentary Setback
(Ripley Records)

What a voice. When Marc Broussard sings, it's the sound of hardscrabble living and tough lessons learned, powerfully delivered, wrapped in that timbre of so many great singers: powerful and direct, tinged with the gravelly rasp associated with a throat acquainted with humble food, liquor and tobacco. Some of those things might be true, but since Carencro native Broussard recently turned 20, it's probably more accurate to say that he's simply one of those young phenoms blessed with special talent.

Channeling that talent into great art is Broussard's formidable task, and his debut CD, Momentary Setback, shows the benefits and drawbacks of youth. On one hand, his pure enthusiasm drives the narratives of "Blue Jeans" and "Just Like That," which boast the indomitable physicality of young lust. The trick is delivering such subject matter without sounding trite, and lines like "something about you moves me deep inside my soul" and "You know I appreciate you" show Broussard's naivete about lyrical cliches. Both songs also show Broussard wrestling with his musical urges; he's a troubadour at heart, but throwing in hip-hop drum tracks and funky clavinet lines muddies up the mix.

But there's plenty here to suggest that Broussard has the potential to dig deeper and produce some timeless musical moments. Opening track "The Wanderer" boasts some delicate acoustic instrumentation and makes the nomad-coming-home theme especially poignant. And when Broussard tackles brilliant songwriter David Egan's elegaic and hauting "French Cafe," surrounding his voice with a beautiful piano melody, there's no denying that newcomer Broussard can sound like a seasoned veteran -- and he's just getting started. -- Jordan

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