And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Many stellar tracks were committed to wax worldwide (or, you know " whatever they use these days) in 2007, and the record business was a twitter with innovations and events. Radiohead chose to use the honor system to sell digital downloads of its release, In Rainbows. Bruce Springsteen's Magic lived up to its name. Unfortunately, but predictably, so did Britney Spears' Blackout. And Amy Winehouse, after dropping the superlative Back in Black, revealed herself to be the drunkest, brawlingest Jew since the late Norman Mailer. In this space, though, to narrow the field, we're sticking close to home. This is my extremely subjective tops of the pops (in no particular order) from Louisiana artists from 2007. James 'Blood" Ulmer
Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions
The first electric guitarist to tour and record with visionary improviser Ornette Coleman, James 'Blood" Ulmer insinuates the aesthetic of Coleman's systematic chaos into his own scratching, howling take on the blues. Bad Blood in the City, with six cover songs and three Katrina-themed originals, takes no prisoners. It's a dense, fiery wall of sound in which Ulmer's guitar blisters and sparks with the fearsome beauty of an electrical storm. As a Katrina album, this is no ruminative memorial or requiem, or upbeat recovery booster; it's the sonic equivalent of hell under dark water.
King Louie and the Loose Diamonds
New Orleans character King Louie Bankston (as noted this week in A&E picks, p. 56), due to his outsized personality, is well known as an element of local color, though that often obscures his mastery of the pop hook. Memphis Street, recorded with a band of underground Southern garage-rock notables, (Harlan T. Bobo, Jack Oblivian and former Squirrel Nut Zipper and Buddy Guy sideman Jimbo Mathus all appear) is a rough, scraggly garage-blues album shot through with lollipop-sweet pop sensibility that distills rock 'n' roll down to its essential components: love, danger, rocking, booze and love. Only King Louie could make a line " from the track 'Gypsy Switch" " like 'I've been smoking out of old tin soda cans / and cooking up tar" sound like a scrap of a Brill Building teen dream.
(Young Money Entertainment)
To choose one project from Li'l Wayne as an example of his '07 output wouldn't be exactly easy, because when it comes to the sometime Cash Money Millionaire's releases from the past year " in a sort of rap-themed Zen paradox " there were both many and there were none. First, he put out the monster 29-track opus Da Drought 3 as a free online-only release. Then, he mislaid tracks from his much-hyped upcoming project Tha Carter III and responded to the Internet frenzy by simply offering those, too, for free download, titled The Leak " and heading back to the studio to tweak. In the nebulous world of the online mixtape, Li'l Wayne and friends also Internet-dropped Tha Carter 2.5 and Tha Carter 2.7 " lots of new tracks from an artist with nothing from '07 out there to Soundscan. The cascade of new and remixed tracks, though, are " with Weezy's signature rasp, effortlessly clever rhymes and sizzling, unmistakably NOLA production " as deliciously addictive and consumable as chips, and when the official The Carter III hits in February, we'll be waiting.
From the Corner to the Block
The decade-old outfit Galactic, for its debut release on Anti Records, decided to step ever-so-slightly out of the spotlight and invited a crew of the members favorite hip-hop MCs to join them in the studio. The result " instead of sounding like a series of cameos " was for the most part seamless collaborations, with the band never quite taking the foreground and rarely receding too far into the shadows. Some of the songs didn't exactly shine, but the quality of the winners more than made up for the duds. The title track, done with Juvenile, bubbles over with energy, with a popcorn-hot second-line rhythm and an upbeat fluidity that makes it a contender for the most danceable song released all year.
Happy Talk Band
Luke Allen wrote the sarcastic song 'Legalize Suicide" more than 15 years ago, he estimates, and it's been a part of his live shows ever since. While he's headed up the aggressive folk/rock outfit Happy Talk Band, it's been the jarring punk-rock palate cleanser that he breaks out toward the end of each gig. Sung with extra-exaggerated weariness on There, There, it frames the record's rather morbid " and according to Allen, unintentional " theme of dead loved ones, real and imagined. The record solidifies the reputation of a concise, bittersweet poet laureate of downtown life that he established with Happy Talk's first release, Total Death Benefit. With the benefit of years of gigging and Mark Bingham's solid production, it also shows nuance and sensitivity in his evolution as a musician and bandleader.
With its latest release, the Zydepunks prove that rock 'n' roll isn't as all-American as popular opinion makes out. Its ferocious blend of Irish, Breton, Cajun, Gypsy, klezmer and other far-flung indigenous music is played with traditional rock instrumentation, but led by the portable, and genre-crossing, instruments that are the cornerstones of folk the world over: accordion and fiddle. Exile Waltz is as close as it comes to the old-world-meets-punk-rock sweaty frenzy of the band's live throwdowns. With its careful production, Exile also reveals the complex musical construction of the hybrid sound that's often lost in the live show's dizzying whirl. The Zydepunks are one of New Orleans' most creative and original acts, and Exile Waltz is a fine addition to their catalog.
Ninth Ward organ whiz Mr. Quintron's musical experiments have run the gamut in more than a decade of recording: an obtuse but curiously compelling Halloween sound-effects record, frenzied gospel-blues, and twitter-and-beep dance music that seems like the soundtrack to a party that the puppets crafted by his companion, Miss Pussycat, might throw. He stands out from the currently popular Casio-and-costume crowd through sheer talent " the man is a furious piano player " and the genuine, fervent enthusiasm of his live shows. 2007's Jamskate " actually recorded years ago, and just seeing the light of day now " is one of his most enjoyable, accessible and danceable efforts to date, from the vertiginous calliope-style swirl of the keys on the opening track to the insistent, building almost hip-hop style 'Wild West (Bank.)"
Besides those top seven, many (and more than can fit in this space) other releases deserve a mention. Al 'Carnival Time" Johnson's single 'Lower Ninth Ward Blues" was both the purest, simplest example of traditional New Orleans R&B and a heart-wrenching, nearly transcendent post-Katrina lament. The Pine Leaf Boys, the Lost Bayou Ramblers and the Red Stick Ramblers each put out solid albums rooted half in traditional Cajun and zydeco, half in rock 'n' roll. Both the Pine Leaf Boys and the Lost Bayou Ramblers scored Grammy nominations for their efforts. Terence Blanchard's orchestral jazz composition A Tale of God's Will (a Requiem For Katrina) is a vast, striking, honestly awe-inspiring response to the disaster. And Preservation Hall's limited-edition box set, with 504 copies each packed with a unique assortment of real and reproduced memorabilia, was a joy for magpies and trad-jazz devotees alike.
- Ryan Mastro
- In 2007, Galactic released From the Corner to the Block, a collaborative effort with the band's favorite MCs.