The biggest surprise on Theresa Andersson's new album is her first (and probably only) punk-rock song, "Make it Pop." Its lyrics offer some backhanded advice to a pretty young thing in the music biz: "Make it pop, keep it sweet, make believe/Play it cool, make some cash while it lasts."
No doubt Andersson knows where that girl is coming from. Given her clear, clean voice, obvious sex appeal and much-developed songwriting, she's long been a crossover success waiting to happen. And Shine ranks as her first full-fledged pop effort, replacing the acoustic slant of her last disc (2002's excellent No Regrets) with a big, arena-friendly sound. "Good Girl" even pulls a U2-ish guitar intro. There's not much of her trademark violin and despite the presence of heavy hitters like producer/guitarist Shane Theriot, keyboardist Jon Cleary and drummer Willie Green (playing the most basic backbeats he can muster), there's nothing to peg this as a New Orleans release.
It's her songwriting that really shines on Shine, maintaining the heart she's displayed in the past. But the cynical streak on "Make it Pop" is new for her; so is the anthemic feel of "I'm On My Way" and the outright sexiness of "Don't Disturb," whose tune is as seductive as the lyric. Ex-husband and musical partner Anders Osborne lends an emotional touch on "It's Gonna Be Alright," which finds the ex-couple mending some fences.
Shine may not manage to capture all of the charisma Theresa Andersson projects onstage, but it does prove that she can make it pop without dumbing it down. -- Brett Milano
Theresa Andersson performs at 12:55 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Acura Stage.
Ray Moore Presents Brasilliance
Ray Moore has been a serious student of Brazilian music for at least 20 years, dividing his time between New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. While in the Crescent City, he often lays low as a player, making the bulk of his income as a piano technician. Make no mistake, though; he's one of our town's better saxophonists and flutists. This CD brings together such like-minded souls as trombonist Rick Trolsen (who has his own Brazilian CD, Choro do Gringo) and Eric Lucero, a superior trumpet-playing sideman with Otra and Sunpie Barnes.
Moore and company cover nine Brazilian tunes, the best of which are by the legendary Hermeto Pascoal, a musical eccentric who has mastered a multitude of instruments and can coax melodies out of squeaky toys, bicycle pumps, blades of grass and other found objects. His appearance at Snug Harbor as well as with his band at the Fair Grounds four years ago flabbergasted even the most jaded Jazz Fest listeners.
In l996, Pascoal finished his "Calendario de Som," 366 tunes for every day of the year, written over a 30-year period. "September 14," the very tuneful "May 21," and "April 16" receive what may be their debut recordings here. Moore, a serious jazzman with a deep understanding of Braziliana, is the perfect person to expose Pascoal to a wider world. Let's hope he has the opportunity to record many other "dates" in the near future. -- Tom McDermott
Brasilliance! performs at 3:50 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Lagniappe Stage.
Henry Butler's restless genius has often led him to try to do too much on his albums. Homeland may not define a style that can contain this puckish contrarian, but it gives him a working band that makes him focus on his strengths. Drummer Raymond Weber, bassist Nick Daniels III and guitarist Vasti Jackson deliver tight, disciplined support throughout.
Butler shows he means business by opening Homeland with a sprightly boogie-woogie piano solo that breaks into "Jump to the Music." "Henry's Boogie" is an even wilder stomp-down. Butler's keyboard prowess is in full flower on his refashioning of the "Mess Around" theme replete with unusual rhythmic figures, clusters of notes thrown in at unexpected moments and lightning flourishes at the end of his lines. Butler later slows things down to feature his singing on the straightforward R&B ballad "The Way We Loved," a prelude to his deft reading of Jerry Butler's "I Stand Accused."
From there, Butler moves swiftly from style to style, the title track being an anthemic rocker, "Hey Little Girl" a lighthearted take on Fats Domino-style rock 'n' roll, and "Casino," a slow blues with a great vocal. When he sings the line, "giant saxophones reaching up to the sky," it makes you realize how powerful visual imagination can be to someone who's been blind since birth.
Mixed into all this are Butler's supercharged take on "Iko Iko," "Some Iko"; the syncopated Meters tribute "The Game Band Strut"; and the brilliant "Ode To Fess" -- all of which show how deeply he mines the New Orleans tradition, an element too infrequently touched upon in previous albums. -- John Swenson
Henry Butler closes out the Popeyes Blues Tent at 5:50 p.m. Friday, April 23.
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Pin Your Spin
If you're lucky, you've been at the Maple Leaf when Cleary and the AMG begin a standard like "Tipitina" and take it through 20 minutes of inspired delirium -- gospel, standard Fess, a bit of Havana -- without missing a beat between grooves. Big D and Cornell Williams smiling and singing like angels and Cleary stomping and rocking the keys for visual counterpoint.
This same quality of extended invention is not going to be duplicated on records like Pin Your Spin, with its three- to six-minute cuts. Nor is Cleary interested in showing that he is one of the great pianists in the New Orleans tradition. Rather, he wants to show his chops as a songwriter and sonic craftsman.
To that end, Pin Your Spin is a success. While there is no tune as memorable as, say, "When You Get Back," from his previous, eponymous Basin Street release, there is plenty to savor. The Absolute Monster Gentlemen are a premier funk band, but they are much more than that. There are cuts here that the city's other top funkateers would find hard to duplicate: the Caribbean languor of "Oh No No No"; "(The) Best Aint Good Enuff," with its four-part a cappella gospel harmony; and the instrumental Cuban romp, "Zulu Strut."
The castanets and sleigh bells of "Agent 00 Funk," the hip-hop touches on "Doin Bad Feelin Good", the massive reverb on "Is it Any Wonder" -- this sonic variety, and the avoidance of endless one-and-two-chord vamping puts this record above the efforts of the vast majority of bands in our funk-crazed market. -- McDermott
Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen perform at 2:50 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Sprint Stage.
Pieces of the Sky, Elite Hotel, Luxury Liner, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town, Blue Kentucky Girl
Gram Parsons is the patron saint of American roots rock. By embracing country and folk while living the rock 'n' roll life, he helped rock's typically ironic audience hear the soul and sympathy in music they had typically dismissed as backward and conservative. As his surviving witness, Emmylou Harris is similarly sanctified, and her albums from the 1970s argue that her stature is earned.
One of Parsons' gifts was his ability to move into each song and make listeners believe the song was about him; they don't always make that assumption about Harris. Her folkie roots and slightly ethereal tenor make it hard to hear her sing "Bottle Let Me Down" on 1975's Pieces of the Sky and believe it's Emmylou upset she can't get drunk enough to forget. If nothing else, she seems too ladylike. What these records show, though, is remarkable taste in material -- songs by Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Buck Owens and Dolly Parton among others -- and her wholehearted commitment to a vision of country rock she came to share with Parsons.
The 1977 release, Luxury Liner, is generally considered Harris' high point during this period for good reason. On the previous albums, she seems at times like the harmony singer she had once been now in search of someone to sing with. Here for the first time she improves on a Parsons song, fleshing out the title track and making it hers. Rather than select covers like the Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere," which made her seem a lesser light due to their stature, she cut "Pancho and Lefty." Others including Willie Nelson have since cut versions of it, but none touch her version for sorrow and sympathy.
The news in this reissue series is 1979's Blue Kentucky Girl. The covers are less well-known and few of the songs have moved into the popular consciousness, but her commitment to country points the way to today's "Americana" roots rock more than any of her other albums, and in ways, even more so than Parsons. -- Alex Rawls
Emmylou Harris performs at 3:55 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Acura Stage.
(Ingrid Lucia Music)
Vocalist Ingrid Lucia's new CD, Almost Blue, combines jazz, traditional, blues, and country into an easy swinging, pleasant set of songs. No matter what Lucia is singing, her voice possesses a sexy magnetism that invites the listener into her world and this lovely recording.
Lucia's emotional range allows her to sound like a longing lover on "This Time the Dream's on Me," a bawdy harlot on "Sugar in My Bowl," and a whiny rich girl on "Sunday Afternoon." Her backing band provides the right amount of subtlety, especially guitarists Burt Cotton and John Fohl, whose comping chords, tasteful fills and mellow solos sound like early T-Bone Walker. Keyboardists Victor Atkins and John Gros on piano and organ, respectively, add a solid foundation that never takes away from the song or the singing.
Lucia's three originals blend in well with the covers, impressive given that some of the other songwriters on this collection include Johnny Mercer, Ray Davies, Hank Williams and Elvis Costello. The record starts off with the bluesy resolve of the Lucia-penned "Hello Sunshine Goodbye Blues," with hornmen Mark Mullins and Mark Braud echoing Lucia's lyrics -- she's yearning for "sunshine to save me from those nighttime blues." "Let Me In" is a sexy Latin number, and "I Remember When" comes near the end with its surf country guitar and Southern California pop lilt. Lucia's originals fill out a set of well-chosen, well-played and well-sung covers full of romance and regret. -- David Kunian
Ingrid Lucia closes out the Lagniappe Stage at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 24.
The Steep Anthology
Branford Marsalis has done a magnificent job of escaping younger brother Wynton's penumbra, but it hasn't been easy. The saxophonist had to quit his job as musical director of The Tonight Show, and he had to disassociate himself from the jazz neo-classicism trademarked by his brother to find the sheer joy in playing music. For Branford, that meant playing with Sting, the Grateful Dead and Widespread Panic as well as his colleagues in the jazz world, and it meant exploring the connections between jazz and hip-hop. The Steep Anthology traces Branford's struggle to establish his identity while recording for Sony.
The collection opens with the fiery "Doctone," the newest track in the anthology, from the 1999 release Requiem. The joyous interplay between Branford, drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts and pianist Kenny Kirkland demonstrates how the best small group jazz is about intelligent conversation between peers. "Doctone" was the nickname of Kirkland, who died before the album came out. In the strange way art has of existing outside of normal time, the elegiac tone of the next track, "Maria," performed three years earlier as a duet with Ellis, seems to comment on the loss of Branford's friend and bandmate. The Marsalis/Kirkland/Watts interplay also illuminates "Spartacus," and the album's only previously unreleased cut, "Evidence," from a 1989 Village Vanguard session, illustrates how well Branford understands how to interpret Thelonious Monk's challenging writing.
Branford and Wynton meet twice on Steep. "Branford's "Cain and Abel" is an apt description of the fierce exchange that ensues on this memorable piece. The brothers show their love for hometown roots with a marvelous Bechet tribute from 1992, "Sidney in the House."
Branford's command of the post-Coltrane style that has dominated contemporary tenor saxophone playing is already evident on the album's earliest track, "No Backstage Pass" (1984), but his ultimate tribute to Trane is the title track from The Dark Keys, where he plays both soprano and tenor and uses the central phrase from A Love Supreme as a unifying element. Steep charts enough accomplishments for most jazz careers, but for Branford it's still only part of a developing story. -- Swenson
Branford Marsalis performs at 4:05 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at the BellSouth/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
You Can't Drown Your Sorrows
Jim McCormick splits his time between Nashville and New Orleans, working as a songwriter there and a musician here. His Nashville songs mind their manners well enough that a recent one, "Time Well Spent," was recently cut by Blue County, but his New Orleans' Full Band plays a rowdier brand of country, flying on beer, feel and McCormick's warm baritone. You Can't Drown Your Sorrows, his second album, locates him musically somewhere between the two cities.
For those who don't listen to contemporary country, You Can't Drown Your Sorrows sounds like what country radio should be like. It's hard to imagine that there isn't a place for a song as attractive as "I'd Love Her Again," and the stripped-down "Expecting Rain" sounds like a demo for a hit. But the record doesn't sound much like country radio. Album-opener "Shotgun Wedding" is too hard a boogie to boot-scoot to, while "Should Have Been Bad" adapts 70s hard rock surprisingly effectively to country purposes. "Jimmy Driftwood" is an elegy for the writer of "The Battle of New Orleans," and it's the sort of lilting old country song fans of traditional country love and that Music Row today has no use for.
Still, the lyrics periodically treat the wild old days sentimentally the way hits like Brooks & Dunn's "Red Dirt Road" do, and that look back doesn't ring any truer on his "Nobody Leaves You the Same" than it does on Chris Cagle's "Chicks Dig It." That doesn't diminish the craft or the performances, but if the tracks feel like songs more than self-expression, that's why. -- Rawls
Jim McCormick & the Full Band performs at 3:05 p.m. Friday, April 23, at the Lagniappe Stage.
Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste
On the Right Track
From the beginning of this enjoyable record, Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste stakes his claim to the throne that he was, is, and will be the funkiest drummer on the planet. Throughout this whole album, Zig's drumming kicks like the Incredible Hulk's slingshot, and the rest of the band on the whole follows through.
The record starts with the underground uptown standard "Welcome To New Orleans." Although the lyrics almost venture into New Orleans cliche, the party vibe and beat carry this song. Special guest Dr. John supplies some of his patented piano riffs, and the horns hit with the right amount of punch. The rest of the CD follows in this vein or in the soul-ballad vein with Zig's gunshot-like snare drum powering the mix. It's good that Zig has one foot in the funk of the past and one foot in the contemporary world. The funk comes through in Mardi Gras-esque "Phat Too's Day" with its second-line funk beats and simple, yet irresistible piano.
Zig's contemporary sound is different from most rhythm and blues these days because it still has the soul and the unmistakable sound of real instruments. The sleazy late-night saxophone in "You Could Be a Movie Star" and keyboards in the final track "Rollin' Stone" show that Zig is firmly in the present. His social consciousness shines on two tracks; "Guns" in particular features rappers Spyboy and CB decrying the impact of gun violence on the community. -- Kunian
Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste performs with his Funk Revue at 4:10 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the Sprint Stage.
It's About Time
There's hardly ever a second line, street party, or music festival in New Orleans where the boisterous sounds of the Lil' Stooges can't heard, which is why it comes as some surprise that the band has just released their first-ever CD, the aptly titled It's About Time. Having played together since 1996, the band recently lost the "Lil'" and now goes by simply The Stooges (never mind that band leader Walter "Whoadie" Ramsey, who plays sousaphone and trombone, is the band's oldest member at 23). On It's About Time, the eight members of the current lineup play loose enough that it feels as real as any live performance, but they still keep it just tight enough to come off as the polished professionals they are.
The incessantly upbeat "Deal With This," "Can't Be Faded," "Wind it Up" (by Stooges trumpet player Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews) and "Mo 1" are particularly potent tracks, whereas a slower groove winds its way through the hip-hop infused "Where You From" and "Chosen II." The latter features the vocals of two Lil' Stooges veterans, Ellis Joseph and J'Mar Wesley, who appear here as special guests. "Big Sam" Williams of Big Sam's Funky Nation also makes a guest appearance here, on the CD's one nod to tradition, the old-school standard "Paul Barbarin."
The last song on the record, "Weed Drought" is a sort of bitter nostalgia trip ("how many y'all remember -- we couldn't find none of that stinky "), but it works perfectly as a clever coda to this impressively accomplished "debut." -- Cynthia Joyce
The Stooges parades with the Zulu Walking Warriors and the Original CTC social aid & pleasure clubs at 4 p.m. Friday, April 23.