A lot of people don’t realize how much of an Irish influence there is in New Orleans jazz. But the Crescent City was a major port of call and received plenty of immigrants during the Potato Famine years and subsequently. So it’s hardly a surprise that the rich musical tradition they brought with them would become part of the city’s multicultural fabric. Torchy chanteuse Tara O’Grady pays tribute to that cross-pollination on her fourth album, Irish Bayou. She’s playing the album release show Thursday, March 26 at 7 PM at the Metropolitan Room, 34 W 22nd St. Cover is $20 – if you really want to go whole-hog, it’s $85 for the show plus open bar. Hmmm….
Although the album hasn’t hit the web yet, there are a couple of tracks up at O’Grady’s youtube channel. The opening tune, I Love You with All My Blood is an oldschool soul strut played as ukulele swing. And A Rude Awakening is a tartly slow-burning blues shout-out to early feminist Irish-American novelist Kate Chopin, lit up with some understately slashing Michael Howell guitar.
What’s the rest sound like? Lots of shuffles. As the Rain Fell Upon Bourbon Street is a bittersweet, ragtime-inflected number, pianist Sasha Papernik pairing against Justin Poindexter’s Hawaiian-infused slide guitar resonance. Carry Me Home is a deliciously vicious, accordion-fueled second-line shuffle that builds to a fullscale blaze. Dry Dem Bones, a deep-fried Little Feat-style remake of the old gospel tune, sways along on the groove from drummer Ryan Vaughn and bassist David Shaich. Ghosts of New Orleans follows a similar theme as the band swings it hard.
“You’re the olives in my muffulata from Central Grocery,” O’Grady croons in Heaping Helping of My Love, which builds to a jaunty dixieland dancefloor bounce. “We can order in some beignets and eat them in bed!” she entreats. The best track here is My Fall Romance, an original that sounds like a Billie Holiday swing classic from the 30s, O’Grady’s sassy, imperturbable alto delivery matched by trumpeter Jordan Sandke’s soulful muted lines. The most relevant number, the burning Take Me Home, reminds how much Irish immigrants have struggled under the radar in this country.
There are also a couple of covers here; Louis Armstrong’s Irish Black Bottom, reinvented as a funk tune with some wry hip-hop flavor, and My Irish Molly-O redone as oldtimey swing with a coy Michael Hashim clarinet solo. And NYC guitar legend Pete Kennedy of the Kennedys – who have a reputedly amazing new album of their own due out soon – figures into the mix somewhere. One assumes that he’s responsible for all that edgy tremolo-picking.