So many local bands release CDs around Jazz Fest time that it's impossible to absorb them all upon their release. So while those platters are still fresh, here's an informal roundup of a few notable recent albums.
The Radiators -- The Radiators (Rattlesby)
With their 25th anniversary on the horizon, The Rads show they still have plenty of steam in the pipes on their first studio album in six years. Producer Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan) bulks up the sonic muscle, giving guitarists Camile Baudoin and Dave Malone a wide swath, and added thump to the rhythm section of bassist Reggie Scanlan and drummer Frank Bua. "Bom-Bom-Du-Dao" is the album's highlight, a sweet ode to doo-wop and new love with a nonsensical and irresistibly catchy chorus. There's an occasional tendency for the band to settle too easily into a mid-tempo funk/rock groove -- it's been too long since the Rads ripped off a flat-out barnburner like "Doctor, Doctor" -- but Malone and pianist Ed Volker's vocal harmonies have never sounded better, and "You Can't Keep No Secrets From the Holy Ghost" boasts some lyrical Allman Brothers' "Blue Sky"-esque dual guitar work at the fade.
Kevin Clark & Tom McDermott -- New Orleans Jazz Brunch (Summit)
Their tenure in bands at stylistic ends of the brass spectrum -- the Dukes of Dixieland and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers -- shows the range and skill of trumpeter Kevin Clark and pianist Tom McDermott. Those chops get plenty of breathing room in this feel-good album of acoustic duets, whether it's a luxurious stroll through "Louisiana," or a skittering version of "Chinatown, My Chinatown." For a program of McDermott straight-up, his new solo album, The Crave (STR Digital), features a masterful rearrangement of James Booker's arrangement of "Tico Tico," a nod to Dr. John with a heartfelt version of Rebennack's "Dorothy," and exotic trips through works by the likes of early-20th century Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. McDermott's always been a dazzling pianist, but his playing has a newfound layer of confidence here, thanks to his recovery from a recent bout with tinnitus.
Leigh Harris -- Polychrome Junction (Self-released)
Like Clark and McDermott, vocalist "Little Queenie" Harris effortlessly travels the musical spectrum, growling her original gutbucket New Orleans blues "Dog Days," or delicately floating through a standard like "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most." Harris is in superb company here, with drummer Karl Budo and percussionist Michael Skinkus providing the rhythmic beds on Polychrome Junction, but it's the tonal colors of pianist Josh Paxton and Hammond B-3 organist David Ellington that warmly embrace Harris' voice as both foils and equals. On tracks like Earl King's "Make a Better World," Paxton gets to indulge his Fess and Booker jones, and Ellington rolls out wave after wave of organ swells, launching Harris into a joyous affirmation on the chorus. (Leigh Harris plays a CD-release party for Polychrome Junction at le chat noir at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 20.)
Mem Shannon -- Memphis in the Morning (Shanachie)
Before his 1995 debut CD, A Cab Driver's Blues, Mem Shannon had never traveled outside the New Orleans city limits. A heap of accolades and three albums later, Shannon's usually on the road touring from Europe to Japan. His new album, Memphis in the Morning, features support from Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love -- aka the Memphis Horns -- and another witty batch of songs spotlighting Shannon's gift for self-deprecating lyrics and syncopated guitar playing. But Shannon's taking some musical chances here as well, hitting a contemporary urban R&B sound on "Unconditional Love," stepping out of his funky shoes for the intimate solo piano ballad "You Belong to Him," and rearranging B.B. King's "Why I Sing the Blues" so it sounds like a Shannon original. Shannon's flair with language hits a high point with "S.U.V.," an acronym-heavy rant against America's current vehicles of choice. (Shannon plays the Funky Butt this Saturday, June 23, fresh from a recent appearance on the nationally syndicated World Café radio show.)
One gig of special note this week: bassist and longtime Tipitina's soundman Rodger Poché was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, and Tipitina's is hosting a benefit concert to defray Poché's medical costs on Wednesday, June 20. Confirmed performers include Ernie K-Doe, Cyril Neville, Rockin' Dopsie Jr., Marva Wright, Michael Ray, members of the Wild Magnolias, Gregory Boyd and other special guests. Suggested donation is $10, and doors open at 9 p.m.