Louisiana musicians were at their best in 2008. Lil Wayne put Hollygrove on the map with Tha Carter III, the Recording Academy finally recognized Cajun and zydeco music with its own Grammy Award category and Preservation Hall started an excellent series of recordings on its own label. Below are some of the past year's standout moments.
Most depressing album: The Happy Talk Band's There, There. The band's plaintive lap steel, cello, banjo and Luke Allen's gruff vocals and occasional punk-rock outbursts take listeners on a guided tour of heartbreak, suicide, loathing and disenchantment.
Best new label project: The "Preservation Hall Presents" album series. Albums showcase members of the formidable Preservation Hall Jazz Band outside the group's trad-jazz format. Its inaugural two releases were drummer Joe Lastie Jr.'s live recording The Lastie Family Gospel and banjo player Carl LeBlanc's Seventh Ward Griot. The Lastie recording sounds like a Sunday morning in a country church from 100 years ago; LeBlanc's album is a crafty amalgam of surprising covers (an acoustic rendering of Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops" is enough to incite tears) and powerful spoken word.
Biggest deal: Lil Wayne's multi-milli-selling Tha Carter III. Not only did the album live up to its yearlong hype, it ensured a solid year's worth of shout-outs for New Orleans and Hollygrove on prime-time TV as Weezy scooped up almost every available award.
Next biggest deal: The inclusion – after years of lobbying – of a Cajun/Zydeco category in the 50th Grammy Awards ceremony. Congratulations to Terrence Simien for bringing home the statuette.
Best collaboration No. 1: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band — plus David Torkanowsky, Shannon Powell, Roland Guerin and Allen Toussaint — with the nonagenarian Blind Boys of Alabama on the Creole-infused, Grammy-nominated, locally recorded gospel/R&B album Down in New Orleans.
Best collaboration No. 2: Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson's Blue Note release Two Men with the Blues. It seemed impossible, but Wynton's horn actually managed to improve upon two standards previously recorded by Willie on his near-perfect 1978 album Stardust: "Stardust" and "Georgia on My Mind."
Best collaboration No. 3: Andre Williams and the New Orleans Hellhounds (an iteration of the Morning 40 Federation plus Clint Maedgen and Mr. Quintron) finally released Can You Deal With It? The explosive, sleazy, blues splatter survived several health scares for Williams and a debauched Mardi Gras visit that apparently nearly killed everyone involved.
Best uses of a keyboard: The Abita Springs-based, James Booker-meets-Tom Lehrer oddity Bobby Lounge proved he's here to stay with a pair of 20o8 releases, Bobby's Back in Town Live and Somethin's Wrong. And the Ninth Ward duo Mr. Quintron and Miss Pussycat dropped another speedy bomb of roller-rink R&B organ and Drum Buddy dance beats, Too Thirsty 4 Love.
Best contribution to the New Orleans music industry: Q93 DJ Wild Wayne and Nuthin But Fire Records owner Sess 4-5's monthly Industry Influence networking events. Initially a hip-hop showcase and business-card-trading free-for-all, the event has grown into a power meeting hub, garnering notice and participation from people like the Jazz & Heritage Foundation's Scott Aiges and the Recording Academy's Reid Wick.
Best odd rhymes:
• "Coquette" with "Chalmette" in the Iguanas' track "Dancing for Dollars Again."
• "Handcuffs" with "pants off" in Lil Wayne and Bobby Valentino's single "Mrs. Officer."
• "Obvious to me" with "too much LSD" in the White Bitch's "Song to a Bong."
• "Afghanistan" with "don't give a damn" in Dash Rip Rock's "New Orleans Needs Stronger Dikes."
Best apparently undead Louisiana artist: C.C. Adcock. The guitarist played in a vampire wedding band on an episode of the bayou-based vampire soap opera True Blood. It was unclear whether he was supposed to be a vampire or not, but he looked pretty sinister.
Best oh-no-he-didn't-say-that lyrics: Dr. John says President George Bush "giggled like a bitch" on his album City That Care Forgot. The biting, clever, incisive album is also the best musical response to the 2005 levee failures so far.
Best unscripted radio moment: Dr. John appeared unannounced on Bob French's WWOZ show during Jazz Fest and devoted a chunk of time to snarky remember-whens about a young Quint Davis.
Best Lil Wayne performance in 2008: Some would vote for the a cappella beat poem about his sexual preferences, complete with fingersnap "applause," performed at a July show at the Lafayette Cajundome. Some might site his efforts to encourage Voodoo Music Experience attendees to vote. I am going with helping to deliver his own baby in late October. In an interview with Power 105.1 FM in New York, he called the experience "very nasty, but wonderful."
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- Lil Wayne capped a stellar year by headlining the Voodoo Music Experience.