Music » Noah Bonaparte Pais: On the Record

The Dirty Bourbon River Show


The Dirty Bourbon River Show honed its sound and repertoire at a weekly gig at the Howlin' Wolf.
  • The Dirty Bourbon River Show honed its sound and repertoire at a weekly gig at the Howlin' Wolf.

Nov. 23

The Big Busk feat. The Dirty Bourbon River Show

9 p.m. Tuesday

Howlin' Wolf, 907 S. Peters St., 522-9653;

Only a band as genetically theatrical as the Dirty Bourbon River Show could subdivide a 30-minute EP into a three-act affair. In July, the New Orleans ensemble issued Free Love, its second self-released record this year, as merch-table fodder and an appetite-whetting intermezzo between Vol. 1, its February debut, and Vol. 2, due in spring 2011. But the platter took on a life of its own: a triple-gatefold, snow-globe carnival whose little big top houses three different introductions and even more personalities, segueing seamlessly from kazoo- and clarinet-blown circus shenanigans to smooth-croon lounge, and finely fingered folk ballads to banjo hoedowns, jazzy sax solos and staccato piano jams.

  The eclectic collection functions as an aural snapshot of the Big Busk, the raucous Tuesday night burlesque residency at the Howlin' Wolf at which Dirty Bourbon has served as house band for the past six months. A revue of both established and inexperienced dancers, the gig has provided singer/songwriter Noah Adams his own nurturing spotlight.

  "It helps you get tight," Adams says of the weekly gig, which wraps for the year at the end of November. "We have all these parts now. It's a really nice dynamic. We have (saxophonist/clarinetist) Wayne (Mitchell), who's trained in jazz. He's nasty. (Bassist/tuba player) Jimmy (Williams), he's trained in funk. Me and (drummer) Bootsy (Schindler) are self-taught. At first it was very hard to come together. Now we've learned to wield it. We have such a diversity of styles we put together in these compositions."

  The band's trump card, early masters from Vol. 2 show, may be Charles "Big Charlie" Skinner. Previously credited as "narrator," Skinner assumes co-frontman duties with Adams on the new album, each rotating between lead and backing vocals, the former's buffed tenor providing a harmonious textural counterpoint to the latter's gruff, whiskey-blanched baritone. "He was sort of our ringmaster," Adams says. "He's a classically trained operatic singer."

  Just as Free Love (available as a free download at fleshed out the template on Vol. 1, these next 10 songs will introduce a more complex, less carnivalesque River Show, outlined by Adams' love of "old-timey" music — from vaudeville to Bob Dylan — and colored by the Portland native's time here. "It's compositionally tighter," he says. "We're experimenting with different ways of recording, live tracking. We got some free time at the Music Shed and did a couple songs there. They came out amazing. ... This is the longest I've ever lived in a place, New Orleans. There's no better place to learn what you learn from a city."

  A night student at Loyola University, Adams, 26, often is hopping off a streetcar as his band is sound-checking at the Howlin' Wolf. Their Big Busk sets consist of originals and covers selected by the dancers, another form of music education. "'I Put a Spell on You,' 'St. James (Infirmary Blues),'" Adams says. "I hope we get a good connection between live music and burlesque. It just kind of falls naturally."

  As for Dirty Bourbon's direction going forward, Adams references a talk he heard Phil Anselmo (Down, Pantera) give at Loyola in 2009: "A lot of bands my age, they get locked into these styles. (Anselmo) said, 'In the '70s, people used to steal from 10 or 12 bands. Now bands are only stealing from one or two.' I'm stealing from a hundred bands. Take everything."

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