If coming to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Jazz Fest is like going to school and majoring in New Orleans music, hanging out at the week of all-day in-store performance at the Louisiana Music Factory record store in the French Quarter is the Advanced Placement class. The CD & vinyl mecca – with its “library” of 1000s of hard-to-find and rare “reference” recordings -- presents 32 shows running about 45 minutes each between Jazz Fest weekends, shows by many of the musical luminaries that perform over at Fest.
Did I mention it’s all free? And even though the huge crowds in the long-narrow shop can make it difficult to shop during the performances, the in-store performances help sell records and keep the Louisiana Music Factory, a music fan and record collector’s paradise, open.
I arrive to BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet’s mostly un-plugged set and a Cajun-French styling of the James Brown hit “I’ll Go Crazy.” The Creole jigs and of fiddler Doucet and BeauSoleil, one of the area bands featured on HBO’s Treme, are the elegant two-step cousins of the area’s Cajun bands that possess a more raucous roll, like Steve Riley’s Mamou Playboys. The tiny store stage brings out the sittin’-and-pickin and storytelling qualities inherent in the folksy tunes, and the band weaves tales of accordions, murder, and one last dance in between songs from their new CD, From Bamako To Carencro. The album takes its name from the cultural connection between the Mali capital of Bamako, in West Africa, and the Lafayette, LA, suburb of Carencro, and delves deep into the group’s Acadian roots. On stage at the Louisiana Music Factory, the band turns “Bamako,” by trombone great Roswell Rudd, into a post-Katrina tribute and ends strong with “Carencro” and “Guilbeau Pelican.”
“How much closer can you get to an audience,” BeauSoleil’s Bill Bennett grins after the band leaves the stage after playing about three feet from the audience in the store. “Big stages are fun, but the intimacy here at these in-stores can’t be matched.”
Trying to move past a crowd of people as I head from the stage toward the front of the store, I don’t immediately recognize guitarist David Doucet, who will perform tonight at the Columns Hotel (made famous in the movie Pretty Baby). I ask him if he’s in the line to get a CD signed. “I don’t have to get mine signed,” he smirks, “I’m on it.” Um, errr, sorry.
For his set, bayou guitarist Zachary Richard has left his band at home and is backed only by organist David Torkanowsky on accordion. Richard tells us of hanging around back doors of clubs in Lafayette as a kid, listening to zydeco heroes like Queen Ida and Clifton Chenier. “If you can envision zydeco music as an atom, then Clifton Chenier is the nucleus,” he says. He soon retracts, jokingly: “Good thing there aren’t any scientists in the house, because I’ve just been told that a molecule is smaller than a Cajun accordion.
Like all the artists appearing here on this year’s schedule of in-store performances at LaMF during Jazz Fest, Richard has a recent album that he features in his set: Le Fou (the fool), a back-to-Louisiana-roots acoustic-folk CD, his 20th. The stripped-down CD was a reaction to the damage to the coastal environment by the 2012 BP/Deepwater Horizon spill and was fashioned as a protest in the name of the first injured bird to be captured and cleaned afterwards, a fou de bassan. Richard invites us to sing along on a Cajun-French lyric -- “For the linguistically challenged, we’ll accept anything.” -- and dedicates a rousing “Vive la Vie Marron” (“Live the Runaway Life”) to “anyone who has ever put up a fight.”
Singer Shannon McNally squeezes herself in between a quintet of musicians and together they draw a set from the Dr. John-produced Small Town Talk, which features McNally’s interpretations of a great lost 1972 album and other tunes by late swamp pop king Bobby Charles. You may not recognize the name, but you know songs that he wrote: “Walkin’ to New Orleans” and “See You Later Alligator” to name two. Like much of the set, McNally’s adaptation of “I Don’t Know Why I Love You Like I Do,” shows off a loving, almost melancholy silkiness with a husky hint of Patsy Cline in her voice.
McNally befriended Charles before his death and sings the material as though he designated her as the vocal heir to his songs. One of McNally’s best remakes is the spiritual pew-rocker “Save Me Jesus,” which she’ll also sing at a Bobby Charles tribute over at Rock’n’Bowl this night. Bobby “isn’t being anti-religious,” she says of the song. “He’s just taking Jesus back from the BS-ers.” A golden version of “Cowboys and Indians,” a hit for Fats Domino, takes the set home.
Now Eric Lindell and his five-piece band the Sunliners, currently featuring guitarist Anson Funderburgh, are on the postage-stamp size stage for a set of breezy, surging rockers that kicks off with the title cut of Lindell’s Sunday Morning CD. Throughout the set, which includes a dedication to “the late, great George Jones,” Funderburgh’s licks suggest definitions of tasty restraint while Lindell shows a subtle wit. “Here I Am in Dallas,” the song of the same name states, “where in the hell are you?” while name-dropping NO LA indie landmarks like The Circle Bar. An ode to the Queen of Soul asks, “Aretha, what do you want from me? … Make her sorry we’re apart.”
When Lindell, a former skate-rat and baker, asks for requests before the set’s finale, one fan responds, “The Way We Were.” I think it’s a joke, until I realize that it actually is the title for the song with the lyric “how we used to be back then.” Lindell obliges by ending with the slippery lounge rocker.
In between all the music, fans can meet with authors of the stacks of music-oriented books available at the La blitzing LaMF, like Elsa Hahne’s The Gravy, which features musician’s recipes culled from the cooking column in the local Offbeat weekly. “My favorite thing with squirrels is eating squirrel brains,” Dr. John says in his introduction for the book. “I like to crack them heads open and just chew on the brains.” A glance at other featured titles, like John Swenson’s New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans, or Inside the Music, a collection of interviews that explores the life of now-retired jazz drumming great Idris Muhammad (Ahmad Jamal, Grant Green, David Murray Quartet), revealed that they’re more PETA-friendly.
A lapsteel guitar can provide a wonderfully expansive and sonorous experience, and that’s just what I get from the solo shot by Stephen Bohren. Apparently he gets kick out of it too, especially on Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” from his Tempered Steel CD. “I play this song for me,” he says. “I hope you like it, but I don’t really care.”
Bohren dedicates the credit woes of “Money Blues” to “the bankers in the house. Oh, wait, they’re not here. They’re off counting our money.” The guitarman keeps a notebook of places he’d like to sing because of the way they sound, and then crams a bunch of the resonant locations into “Bobby Jo.” Before his quite lovely take of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Bohren reveals that “I thought I’d just discovered the most beautiful song in the world. Then I discovered that 750,000 had sung it before me.”
Unlike last year, Basin Street recording artists Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers (more music from Treme) have found their way to their in-store set at the Music Factory. On paper, the concept behind Ruffin’s latest CD Partyin’ Traditional Style -- more remakes of classic jazz – could be a bore, unless it’s accompanying me while I sip cognac in a nice, lush hotel lounge. I’m mystified when Ruffins and crew take off on the moldy “Man on the Flying Trapeze” with a standard treatment – really? But then they turn it into a great New Orleans moment by disassembling the tune and rebuilding it into a shiny new jam.
Kermit and band do the same on their ambush of “Jeepers Creepers,” into which a keyboard melody from “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (!) is worked. Later in the set, I learn that Ruffins cooks food as hot licks and jot down the address of Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy over near Armstrong Park.
Drummer Jason Marsalis is doing a different kind of re-construction for his set -- assembling the metal bars of his vibraphone. Hot off the critical success of his Jazz Fest appearance, he’s just learned that his new CD, In a World of Mallets, has hit #1 on the jazz charts. Now ready to start playing, he bemoans the fact that some musicians are abandoning the blues as irrelevant and asserts that “the blues can sound like 2013” as he launches into “Blues Can Be Abstract Too.” Well, actually, the tune sounds not so much like 2013 as it does the future. Of course, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Seriously. And Jason’s Vibes Quartet is a very swinging unit – even on the floating, ethereal “Characters,” which is couched in cool-down rhythms, and “Blues for the 29-Percenters.” “Yes, it’s a specific reference to what was going on about six years ago,” says Marsalis.
Checking out the LaMF stage, Jason tells a story about the beaten-down upright piano, now removed, that used to take up a good chunk of it. “My dad [pianist Ellis Marsalis, Jr.] was sad when I told him it was no longer here,” Jason says. “People think he’d be fussy about what he’ll play, but he’ll play anything.”
There’s swamp rock, and then there’s stomp rock, and that’s where Chubby Carrier & the Bayou Swamp Band come in. Chubby Carrier is a third-generation party animal: “Ain’t no party like a Chubby party ‘cause a Chubby party don’t stop.” And the JB’s funk-style zydeco of his Bayou Swamp boys provide the non-stop beats. Chubby tells us he owes it all to his daddy, Roy Carrier, who exposed him to all kinds of music – rock, blues, Cajun, soul, zydeco, funk, etc. Hence the title of Chubby’s new dance-party disc, Rockin’ with Roy.
The set pays tribute by featuring Chubby’s fave track by his father, “I Found My Woman Doin’ the Zydeco (with Another Man),” the washboard rhythms of “Nightime is the Right Time,” and Rockin’ Sydney’s “Jalapena Lena,” a zydeco nugget Chubby has performed with Geno Delafose. During “Who Stole My Hot Sauce,” I‘m a bit, uh, perplexed that so many audience members accept an invitation drink straight from a bottle of Lousiana Red Hot. Wait, no I’m not.
Dumpstaphunk, which features Ivan (keys) and Ian (guitar) Neville, will be the last act I catch at this year’s in-store series. And even though they’ve been a favoritefor several years -- how can you NOT love a band with The one-two bass punch Tony Hall & Nick Daniels? -- I’m blown away by the musical growth of the band, now 10 years old. They open with their funk-fest version of Larry Graham’s “Water,” written back when “we thought we were Black Panthers.” That’s probably just around the time that their latest addition, powerhouse drummer-singer Nikki Glaspie, was born. (Glaspie’s previous gig was four years with Beyonce.) She kicks Dumpstaphunk’s syncopated blitz along by building that beats are as tight as a German tank.
The new album Dirty Work, recorded “whenever” over a year and a half and mixed by the late super-engineer Andy Johns (Exile on Main Street, etc.). The disc provides the set list for Dumpstaphunk’s LaMF show. Flea’s guest bass work is featured on the album version of “I’m in Luck,” but I’m not missing it today. And the title track soars here amongst the record racks even without Ani DeFranco, who found the cut through her hubby Mike Napolitano (who mixed the CD) and laid down a vocal track.
Dumpstaphunk is the last of the bands I’ll see from this year’s five days of shows. A recording of it, along with those of the other acts who perform for the in-stores, will be uploaded to the LaMF website, within a week or two. In the meantime, it’s time to drag this year’s haul of CDs-I-can’t-live-without up to the cash register and prep for Weekend Two of this always-fun Restival’s big daddy, Jazz Fest. ~
Photos taken by author unless otherwise noted.