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Sounds of the Fest

CD reviews of new albums from performers playing New Orleans during Jazz Fest time.

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Fats Domino
Live From the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2001
(Shout Entertainment)

If you're in town visiting for Jazz Fest and haven't kept up on Fats Domino's career, say, in the last 20 years, perhaps you saw this new CD or Domino's name on the Jazz Fest schedule, and assumed Domino was part of the old rock 'n' roll guard currently working the casino circuit and peddling lifeless nostalgic versions of old hits.
You would be gravely mistaken. While he only performs in public once or twice a year these days, Domino is still such a vital musical force that his rare hometown gigs are treated like major events in New Orleans. This new CD (and separate DVD) captures just such a moment: Domino's headline appearance at the 2001 Jazz Fest.
One listen at look at this show will instantly convert cynics. Domino's voice shows little signs of age, still boasting that warm Creole phrasing and joyous lilt. His piano playing is still top-flight, too, as the frenzied piano melody kicking off Domino mission statement "I'm Ready" attests. "My Blue Heaven" sports a beautiful keys solo loaded with bright trills, and he hammers the triplets on "Blueberry Hill" like it was still 1956. On occasion Domino goes too fast for the band, and the tempos shift, but that's a minor quibble when you've got ace saxman Herb Hardesty wailing like a hurricane wind on "Let the Four Winds Blow."
These live versions of such staples can't match the originals, of course, but they're a worthy validation of Domino's continuing stature as an ace showman -- and a reminder that you better not miss his 2003 Jazz Fest appearance. -- Jordan
Fats Domino plays the Acura Stage at Jazz Fest at 5:50 p.m. Thursday, April 24.

New Orleans Klezmer All Stars
Borvis
(Stretchy Records)

In the realm of the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars' zany one-band genre, Borvis (meaning "bare feet"), their fifth album, is their most mature and intricate effort to date. Jumping from sprightly celebration to wayward weariness, the veteran band shows us a microcosmic slice of colorful klezmer life, complete with tensions and triumphs.
Guitarist Jonathan Freilich remains an overbearing creative force in the unit. He brings an exceptional set of compositions such as the title track, where he starts out alone in a call-and-response stand-off with the rest of the band. Two tracks later, he steps up with another epic, "Freilich's Phoenix Doina," which eventually descends into guitar chaos and the faint hint of lo-fi radio war commentary. Clarinetist Robert Wagner leads the rebellion against Freilich's dominance. While Freilich's spotlight moments resonate with urgency, Wagner's are gorgeously desperate. He retaliates with tracks like "The Owl," a five-minute solo that howls through technical perfection, the ever-weepy "Jews Blues," and the blatant "No More Freilach," with its double-entendre title that either refers to a common klezmer song format or the band's guitarist.
In the case of the All Stars, maturity doesn't mean solemnity. The band is as clownish as ever, and there is still plenty of humor in their music. "Naftuna Melt" is an unruly rhapsody that oscillates between lazy guitar funk and frantic accordion runs lilted with gospel licks. But the All Stars, determined never to leave purists behind, finish the album with four traditional songs. This final run finds them in victorious unity, playing fresh versions of standards not too twisted by their iconoclastic tendencies. -- Diettinger
The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars play Jazz Fest 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at the Sheraton N.O. Fais Do-Do Stage.

Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe
Live at Jimmy's
(Independent)

It's been too long since Michael Ray and the Cosmic Krewe released a new album, and this disc is a reminder of what a great band they are, especially live. At the best Cosmic Krewe shows, there was a sense that anything could happen: Kool and The Gang deep funk, Sun Ra free jazz, philosophical expositions, and musical trips to the known and unknown universe.
This show included most of the Northern Cosmic Krewe, with special guests Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman from Phish. The band is tight and includes multiple rhythm masters Fishman, drummer Eddie Dejean, and percussionists Michael Skinkus, Steve Ferraris, and R.J. Spangler pushing the groove deep in the pocket or way out in musical space. Anastasio plays some great solos on songs such as "Champions" without calling undue attention to himself, and his notes and phrasing fit well in the context of the Krewe. Dave Grippo is more in the realm of realm of straight jazz than subsequent Krewe saxophonists, but comes out for some shining solos and ensemble work. Pianist Adam Klipple varies his styles, sounding like south-of-the-border Latin pianists or Sun Ra himself on songs like "Dancing Shadows."
Michael Ray is the highlight of the disc. He's in control and at his charismatic best, singing is strong and clear and taking his trumpet through its usual wide range, from low growls on "Beans and Rice" to stratospheric high notes on Ra's "Neverness." (Think the beginning of Kool and The Gang's "Jungle Boogie.") Even if you weren't at this show, you can almost picture the Krewe's neon lights, shiny costumes, and African dancing from vocalist Ausettua Amor Amenkum. -- Kunian

Michael Ray plays a CD-release party at 10 p.m. Thursday, April 24, at Jimmy's (8200 Willow St., 861-8200).

David Egan
Twenty Years of Trouble
(Louisiana Red Hot Records)

Most Louisiana music fans know David Egan as the soulful piano player and vocalist for Lil' Band o' Gold and File. But to artists such as Johnny Adams, Percy Sledge, Joe Cocker and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Egan's a wonderfully evocative songwriter whose compositions provide fertile emotional ground to cover.
Egan stakes his own claim to that musical and personal landscape on his debut CD, Twenty Years of Trouble. Other artists have given moving readings of Egan songs, but this CD shows that Egan's the best man to sing his compositions. The kick-off title track and "I Just Can't Do Right" sport sly rhythms and a wry vocal delivery that sound like vintage Mose Allison. "If She Calls ..." and "Half-Past the Blues" are impeccably crafted slices of blue-eyed soul, with Egan's vocals channeling Boz Scaggs' superb recent albums. The boogie-woogie stomper "Fail Fail" sports a vintage Egan lyric: "Open up to any page of my book/ drop your finger and take a look/ won't find any happy trails/ won't find anything but fail, fail, fail."
Egan's backed on the CD by the expected batch of stellar sidemen, including his Lil' Band o' Gold bandmate C.C. Adcock on guitar, and Shreveport slide guitar virtuoso Buddy Flett. The CD closes with three live performances that show that Egan is just as compelling live as he is in the studio. Here's hoping that we don't have to wait two decades for a follow-up to these brilliant Twenty Years of Trouble. -- Jordan
David Egan plays Jazz Fest with Lil' Band o' Gold on Friday, April 25, at 1:35 p.m. on the Acura Stage.

Sean Ardoin & ZydeKool
Home Brew
(Tomorrow Recordings)

I don't know "Mel," and I don't know why he says "Fumba Laka Chumba / We gonna be alright." Maybe it's bastardized French; maybe it's a tribute to Blue Suede. Whatever. Songs like "Fumba Laka Chumba" are just what Sean Ardoin likes to throw at his audience. This member of the Ardoin musical lineage is the master of the curve ball.
On Home Brew, a great follow-up to his well-received Pullin', Ardoin starts things off with an accordion riff that harks back to the old Creole tunes of his and other south Louisiana families; the song is "If U Want Me," and Ardoin even ends it with this album's only French vocals. The title track is pure accordion gutbucket blues, the kind Clifton Chenier used to play in Houston barrooms, and Ardoin is in command with supple, smooth vocals. Don't listen for the accordion in the slow jams "Love, All For You" or "Around the World"; it's not there. (In the latter, a man laments for his woman serving overseas in the military.) But just when Jazz Fest audiences might think they accidentally spun themselves into Al Jarreau's set, Ardoin launches into "Back Porch," a blistering accordion solo turn that demonstrates that, yes, this is Amede Ardoin's DNA.
Ardoin supports his accordion with his own thundering work on drums. Chuck Bush, formerly a secret weapon for Beau Jocque, is on guitar and bass; Poppee Donatto plays rubboard. These are original players, and Home Brew demonstrates that, given that originality is paramount in all music, Ardoin is way ahead of the pack. -- Tisserand
Sean Ardoin 'n' ZydeKool play Jazz Fest at 2:20 p.m. Sunday, April 27, on the Sheraton N.O. Fais Do-Do Stage.

Andi Hoffman and B-Goes
Living in the Big Wide World
(Independent)

There is something sweet about New Orleans singer/songwriter Andi Hoffman's new CD. It's sweet in the way that your best girl or guy might serenade you before planting a light, wet one on your lips, or the way a Hansen's Sno-Ball glides down your throat. The music is playful in a pop music sense, with pretty melodies and lightly strummed guitars, along with nimble but unobtrusive bass lines.
Switzerland native Hoffman's voice and accent takes a moment to get used to, but ultimately makes the listener pay closer attention to his words and ideas -- in lyrics far more sophisticated than the sentimental baloney that one hears on the radio. Hoffman's ideas reflect a positive view on life and the universe. He refuses to withdraw in face of adversity, singing that he "ain't gonna give up living in the big wide world," as a sample of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preaches about the interconnectedness of all humanity. Elsewhere he tells his loved one "you are the sunshine in my world."
The arrangements are full yet airy, with drummer Cory Walters favoring finesse over power. Hoffman employs several guitarists on the record, and they play with such empathy for each other and the songs that sometimes it is hard to assert whether Hoffman, Roberto Luti, Anders Osborne, or Jimmy Robinson are strumming the chords or plucking the single notes. Overall, the album has an atmosphere and sound reminiscent of Lou Reed's recent output. Kudos also to Hoffman for the design of the CD package, a simple yet elegant wooden box that fits right in with Hoffman's naturalistic World view. -- Kunian
Andi Hoffman & B-Goes play Jazz Fest at 11:25 a.m. Saturday, April 26, on the Acura Stage.

Jeremy Lyons & the Deltabilly Boys
Live at the Dragon's Den
(5/8ths Music Records)

The trip begins with climbing the slippery stairs to the Dragon's Den, where the sound of guitarist Jeremy Lyons and his band the Deltabilly Boys embrace you like the sweltering summer air does in New Orleans. Immediately the precise, driving beat of Greg Schatz on the upright bass and Paul Santopadre on the drums takes the senses, while Jeremy Lyons' agile fingerpicking and slide playing blasts like a cannon.

Classic songs by Robert Johnson like "Preachin' Blues" and "Up Jumped the Devil" are combined to form a powerful rolling train, where Lyons doesn't waste a second demonstrating a few finger breakers on the guitar while filling all the other spaces with yodels and fine singing. "You are Not the Only Oyster in the Stew" is a comical eye opener of a love song dedicated to fine ladies everywhere. The classic twangy guitar sounds of Link Wray and the Ventures are brought to the foreground in Wray's well-known song "Jack the Ripper."

This collection of songs by the likes of Johnson, Slim Harpo, Muddy Waters, and some originals by Lyons himself, are all executed to keep the party going and bodies grooving on the dance floor. This is a natural fusion of hillbilly, rockabilly, western swing, blues, and surf music with outstanding playing, awesome dynamics, and downright strong vocals. -- Lander

Jeremy Lyons & the Deltabilly Boys play the Popeye's Blues Tent at Jazz Fest on Friday, April 25, at 2:35 p.m.

John Hiatt & the Goners
Beneath This Gruff Exterior
(New West Records)
On the first song of his new CD Beneath This Gruff Exterior, singer/songwriter John Hiatt barks the word "shit" in the rocking, memorable chorus to "Uncommon Connection." Then he cusses again in the album's equally blistering second track, "How Bad's the Coffee?," and it's clear from the start that this is one of Hiatt's rawest albums in years, in no small part due to the presence of backing band and Louisiana heroes the Goners: guitarist Sonny Landreth, bassist Dave Ranson and drummer Kenneth Blevins.
After recording 2001's The Tiki Bar Is Open with the Goners and touring extensively with the backing trio, Hiatt wanted to capture the band's explosive live sound, and he achieves that goal throughout the album. Landreth's slide torques up the uptempo numbers "Circle Back" and "Fly Back Home," in addition to making "Almost Fed Up With the Blues" the nastiest blues track Hiatt's ever recorded. The band's synergy also soars on the beautiful melodies of "My Baby Blue" and "Me and My Dog." Hiatt's a particularly underrated rhythm guitarist, and his interplay with Landreth throws off some serious sparks.
Hiatt devotees will love the album for the continued exploration of his primary themes: aging, loss, love and the search for identity. Those subjects are probably at the core of every artist's quest, but few musicians address those issues with Hiatt's skill and tenacity. Beneath his gruff exterior, Hiatt continues to be one of rock's most sincere and dedicated songwriters and performers. -- Jordan

John Hiatt & the Goners open for Crosby, Stills & Nash at Municipal Auditorium on Friday, April 25, at 9 p.m.

Various Artists
Gotta Serve Somebody: The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan
(Columbia)

Bob Dylan's 1979 announcement that he was a born-again Christian provoked the usual spectacle associated with Dylan's previous radical career changes. His folk fans felt he was once again turning his back on social issues; his rock fans wondered how he could forsake his formidable back catalog of popular material; and Christians welcomed a popular music icon spreading their message. Somewhat lost in the controversy was the fact that Dylan wrote some great gospel songs.
That fact is hammered home on this new tribute featuring a diverse line-up of contemporary gospel acts interpreting works from Dylan's gospel era. Vocalist Shirley Caesar gives a spoken-word sermon's intro to her rolling version of "Gotta Serve Somebody," while Lee Williams & the Spiritual QC's offer a solemn, probing version of "When You Gonna Wake Up." Powerhouse vocalist Dottie Peoples provides one of the album's highlights, devoting her amazing vocal range to the unconditional devotion of "I Believe in You." The Fairfield Four do a traditional a capella quartet version of "Are You Ready," while the female choir Sounds of Blackness throw themselves into the "won't let go, can't let go" refrain of "Solid Rock."
With other heavenly offerings such as Aaron Neville's falsetto tackling, it's jarring to hear Dylan's own raspy bark close the album on a new duet version of "Gonna Change My Way of Thinking" with Mavis Staples. (But dig the pre-recording banter with Staples, a recreation of an old Carter Family conversation.) Still, this stellar album's only major disappointment is the exclusion of two of Dylan's finest gospel songs: "Slow Train Coming" and "Every Grain of Sand." -- Jordan
Bob Dylan headlines Jazz Fest on Friday, April 25, at 4:50 p.m. on the Acura Stage.

Various Artists
Boozoo Hoodoo!
(Fuel 2000 Records)

In addition to being a fiery performer, the late Boozoo Chavis wrote and adapted an impressive body of work. Boozoo Hoodoo! is a fitting, boisterous and, at times, touching tribute to the man and his music. Imagine a Chavis Labor Day Party, where a bevy of south Louisiana and New Orleans bands go to Dog Hill to deliver the goods.
The Cajun and zydeco line-up includes BeauSoleil's "Bye Bye Jole," with Michael Doucet's fiddle weaving lines around Jimmy Breaux's sharp accordion attack. Rodney Crowell joins the Hackberry Ramblers on "Keep Your Dresstail Down," debating with vocalist Glen Croker on the proper position of a dresstail. Guitarist Sam Broussard throws some Hendrixian surprises into Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys' mostly G-rated version of "Uncle Bud." Sonny Landreth and Buckwheat Zydeco deliver "Make It To Me," and Sean Ardoin's "Leona Had a Party" is affectionate and masterful, with his bandmates playfully mimicking the Magic Sounds.
Among the biggest surprises and best tracks: the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars reassemble "Boozoo's Breakdown" into a klezmer tune, Afroskull (!) goes old-time zydeco (!) with the two-step "Marksville Slide"; and Svare Forsland and Leigh Harris close with the mournful "Crying in the Street," a song usually associated with Boozoo's friend John Delafose.
The whole project is clearly a labor of love, so it's easy to forgive minor flaws such as the proliferation of misspellings throughout the liner notes and credits. Above all, hearing Poncho Chavis -- Boozoo's son -- belting out "I'm going away/And I ain't coming back no more," is a hopeful sign that Boozoo Chavis' music will live on. -- Tisserand
Poncho Chavis & the Magic Sounds play Jazz Fest at 5:55 p.m. Friday, April 25, on the Sheraton N.O. Fais Do-Do Stage.

Lucinda Williams
World Without Tears
(Lost Highway)

Just as her Southern way with vowels taffies words like "tenderly" and "pain" into new forms, Lucinda Williams tests the boundaries of her music with each new project. On World Without Tears, she deepens her lyrical reach, strengthens her band's rock 'n' roll attack, and doesn't relinquish the folksong intimacy of her past work.
World Without Tears also leaves behind her named characters and Louisiana/East Texas backdrops. Except for a passing reference to La Grange, Tex., the big locales here are "Minneapolis" and "Ventura." She's stripped her world down to two shifting characters: "you" and "me." The mood is down; Williams is becoming the bard of bleak, conjuring the whippoorwill of lonesomeness with lines like "Haven't spoken to no one / Haven't been in the mood / Pour some soup, get a spoon and / Stir it up real good." She sings those words on "Ventura," as a pedal-steel gently surges like the Pacific Ocean and a snare brush mimics the shower she knows won't cleanse her soul.
Not everything scores so well; she oversells the hip-hop/talking blues "Sweet Side"; the lyrics about child abuse veer toward Natalie Merchant territory. No matter. There likely are more good songs and performances here than the best parts of the rest of the albums to come this year. Just listen to "Righteously," in which Williams evades despair long enough to go honky-tonkin' and coach her man through the night: "Don't cause me pain / Be my lover don't play no game / Just play me John Coltrane." For Williams, righteous love won't last, and neither will bad love. Only music will do. -- Tisserand

Lucinda Williams plays Jazz Fest at 5:25 p.m. Thursday, April 24, on the Louisiana Heritage Stage.

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