Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Transplanted Brit Jon Cleary has proved himself totally fluent in New Orleans as a second language, channeling legends like Booker and Longhair with ease and relish in rollicking live shows around town. Finally, he's released a live album that captures some of that unfettered groove, although it was not recorded at Tip's or on Frenchmen Street " weirdly, it was put on tape in Australia. But even if the audience hoot-and-holler isn't authentically Abita-fueled, Mo Hippa (released on his own FHQ label) brings authentic Crescent City stomp and boogie-woogie to a performance that passes easily for a sweaty after-midnight set in the Crescent City. He hits up some stone classics, like Fess' own 'Go to the Mardi Gras," the Meters' 'People Say" and King Floyd's unmistakable slice of funk sunshine 'Groove Me." Cleary generally hits a good balance between faithfulness to icons and his own personality to keep it interesting. He is a loose, fun-time rocker with a solid relationship with his band, and the groove is organic and relaxed, not studied. That comes through best on originals like the slinky creeper 'Port St. Blues" and the Caribbean-inflected title track, proving that the tradition of original piano professors in New Orleans is alive and well.
Taking on a Jimi Hendrix cover is an ambitious goal for any guitarist, for the weight of mythology as much as the intimidation of skill. So it says something about the character (and chutzpah) of guitarist Jimmy Robinson that on his solo debut, he cheerfully takes on the legacy of the psychedelic shredder with a cover of 'The Wind Cries Mary," and makes it his own, with lovely, low and mournful horns (courtesy of Bonerama) and a drawn-out starkness that turns the textured, emotional track into a deconstructed, meditative jazz funeral. A veteran of both the local guitar supergroup Twangorama and Susan Cowsill's band, Robinson is a 12-string whiz and a former classical guitarist, so his chops are impeccable. To his credit, he never lets his virtuosity stand in place of personality. Most of the tracks on Vibrating Strings are complex, rootsy and spare " just Robinson's slightly raspy vocals and thundering picking " with a power that recalls Richard Thompson and haunting, dark-country emotion reminiscent of Neko Case. The inclusion of covers like 'Mary" and Led Zeppelin's 'Kashmir" are almost like the winking Easter egg of the album, revealing the breadth of Robinson's skill.
Screamin' 4 Vengeance
Master P's little brother Corey Miller has had his share of trouble in the five years since he was convicted of murdering an underage patron at a Kenner nightclub. He's under house arrest now, pending a retrial that starts in October, and he's used the time industriously. Last year, he published a rather gripping novel, Death Around the Corner, about treading the dangerous waters of the rap game and drug dealing in the New Orleans projects. He also slowly built his independent Tru Records label, appeared on a panel at the Cutting Edge Music Conference last year. Screamin' 4 Vengeance is pretty much classic No Limit, with stomping, lead-heavy beats and menacing gangsta growl, though in the current super-hot climate for Southern rap, it's not a thriller. One of the standout treats on the album is a guest spot from '90s No Limit star Mia X on a remix of the track 'Posted on tha Block," which was dropped last year as a single. It makes you want to hear more from the confident, smart rapper, who made a name for herself by going, uniquely, more pimp than ho with her image back in the day. The single 'Get Fresh," an upbeat, nostalgic track that's been getting a lot of local radio play is infectious and strikes a chord with its nostalgia. Instead of hyperbole about making it rain and collecting expensive cars, its rosy lyrics deal with a well-earned night out after a hard work week ('I just got paid today/ So you know I'm going out tonight.") Not surprisingly, he deals with his tribulations of the past few years on tracks like 'Represent" ('The DA's just like a f***in' disease") his tight crew ('Only 10 n***** got these chains") and his roots, with lots of shout-outs to CP3. If his conviction stands, Miller faces a mandatory life sentence, so Screamin' 4 Vengeance might well be his holla for the ages.
Wild & Free
After 30 years and change as New Orleans' iconic barroom rockers, the Rads have accumulated quite a vault. Wild & Free, a two-disc set of unreleased rarities, outtakes, flotsam and jetsam is its housecleaning. Sets like these can backfire horribly and come across like somebody giving you a 'present" that he found while cleaning out the garage. Happily, Wild & Free has more of a 'Basement Tapes" feeling to it " like a collection of candid photographs catching the band letting loose and grooving hard. The tracks go back to 1978 live recordings from the band's first-ever residency (Wednesday nights at Luigi's Pizza on Elysian Fields) and are mostly rougher, more laid-back versions of well-loved fan favorites. One standout is 'Love Trouble," a song that's often deployed as a prolonged jam session at live shows but stands here as a raw, tight frat-house rocker. Two new tracks recorded in 2008 at the Music Shed " 'Where Was You At?" and 'The Girl With the Golden Eyes" " fit in perfectly with the vintage material (culled mostly from the '80s), but they're hardly necessary. It stands up as a perfectly fine introduction to the Rads, even if you've never heard them before, but it'll be most appreciated by longtime fans " who will get misty from hearing the live recordings pulled from the board at the Dream Palace or the pizzeria.