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The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Compilation: Five Albums of Crescent City Madness

What can you do when you’re unemployed (temporarily, let’s hope) and your city’s nightlife has gone completely dark? You could fire up Bandcamp and listen to all five of the albums of Jazz Fest: the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival compilation. In a sick way, most New Yorkers will never have as much time on our hands as we do now – and let’s all swear that we will never again use this same excuse for sitting around listening to long albums!

This playlist spans several decades of revelry. Pretty much every style of music and every culture to ever play the festival are represented here – historically, New Orleans has been a melting pot every bit as diverse as New York. There are a lot of big names from across the years, a bunch of standards and many rare treats as well. In general, these are LONG songs: if you can multitask, the compilation has you covered for two days of a work week.

It’s a mixed bag. Some of the segues are jarring, and you can quit halfway through album five without missing anything. Giving Kenny Neal and his generic blues band fifteen minutes, more than just about anybody else, to phone in a medley was a waste. Surely the compilers could have found something more compelling from Professor Longhair than the song where he plays a trebly Wurlitzer…and whistles. Notwithstanding how much great material Preservation Hall Jazz Band have put out lately, we get…My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It? And who really wants to hear all the band intros at the end of a rote version of a familiar Clarence Frogman Henry novelty song?

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s a ton of great material you can use for your own playlists. You can tell from the first few close harmonies of Hey, Now Baby that it’s Henry Butler at the piano. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band are represented by a pouncing guitar-and-sax-fueled 2004 take of Blackbird Special. Dr. John’s emphatic, darkly stirring Litanie des Saints and a smoldering, vengeful, psychedelic take of I Walk on Gilded Splinters could be the high point of the whole album. The soulful John Boutte contributes a simmering post-Katrina parable, Louisiana 1927, a tale of “Twelve feet of water in the Lower Nine….They’re trying to wash us away, don’t let ’em!”

The Al Belletto Big Band bring the storm with their mambo-tinged Jazzmocracy. Bluesman Champion Jack Dupree and pianist Allen Toussaint deliver Bring Me Flowers While I’m Living with plenty of gallows humor, then cut loose in Rub a Little Boogie. Toussaint turns in a brass-fueled Yes We Can Can, as well as What Is Success, with Bonnie Raitt on sunbaked slide guitar, a little later on.

The expansive, oldtimey version of Summertime, by the Original Liberty Jazz Band featuring Dr. Michael White is strikingly fresh. The bursts from the choir in Ain’t Nobody Can Do Me Like Jesus, by Raymond Myles with the Gospel Soul Children are viscerally breathtaking. The Zion Harmonizers‘ I Want to Be At the Meeting and Golden Gate Gospel Train are just as stirring instrumentally as they are vocally.

The accordion/fiddle harmonies of the Savoy Family Cajun Band‘s Midland Two Step are especially juicy. When Beausoleil‘s sad twelve-string guitar waltz Recherche d’Acadie finally appears, four albums in, it’s actually a welcome break from all the relentless good cheer. Shortly afterward, the Neville Brothers’ slow-burning Yellow Moon rises to an eerily surreal halfspeed dixieland raveup. And bluesman John Mooney’s It Don’t Mean a Doggone Thing, Deacon John‘s Happy Home and Sonny Landreth‘s Blue Tarp Blues each have some sizzling slide guitar. Those are just some of the highlights: at this point, it’s time to stop and turn it over to you. Enjoy.

Pokey LaFarge Brings His Ruggedly Individualistic Americana to Williamsburg Tonight

Last night in between sets at Bowery Ballroom the PA played Los Mirlos’ creepy, otherworldly version of Sonido Amazonico, which is both the national anthem of cumbia and sort of the Peruvian equivalent of Take Five. A little later, the song was Don Gibson’s 60s country-pop hit Sea of Heartbreak. Both perfectly foreshadowed a deliriously fun show by rugged Americana individualist Pokey LaFarge and his fantastic seven-piece band.

On one level, what LaFarge plays is retro to the extreme, a mashup of early 50s hillbilly boogie, western swing, hot 20s jazz, vintage New Orleans soul, honkytonk, Tom Waits, Tex-Mex, mambo and a little southwestern gothic and noir bolero for deliciously dark contrast. On the other hand, there’s no one in the world who sounds like LaFarge: he’s taking a bunch of well-worn, familiar styles and creating something brand spanking new.

His band is amazing. Drummer Matthew Meyer energized the crowd with a pummeling Wipeout interlude. Bassist Joey Glynn drew a lot of chuckles with a punchy solo that quoted both the Who and the Violent Femmes. Midway through the set, LaFarge explained that he’s hardly the only good songwriter in the band, then left the stage for a smoke break or something. So banjo player Ryan Koenig switched to electric guitar and played one of the night’s best numbers, a gorgeously rueful oldschool honkytonk song about smalltown anomie titled This Main Drag (or something close to that).

Saxophonist Ryan Weisheit switched from alto to smoky baritone, to maybe tenor – it was hard to see through the crowd. Trumpeter Luc Klein played all sorts of wry effects with his mute. And lead guitarist Adam Hoskins adrenalized the audience with axe-murderer volleys of tremolo-picking, masterfully precise bluegrass flatpicking and fiery blues.

The songs really ran the gamut. With his matter-of-fact baritone, LaFarge doesn’t overemote. He added a little twang on the country numbers, and took a few Roy Orbison slides upward in one of the sad ballads, but he doesn’t try to sound like anybody else. And he only took a couple of guitar solos, but he made those count. A lot of the material was from LaFarge’s latest album Manic Revelations, including the title track, an unapologetic populist anthem, and the more upbeat but even more savage Silent Movies, a jauntily swinging nonconformist manifesto for an age where the performer onstage is reduced to a pretext for the selfie clusterfuck on the floor. Just so you know, there was none of that at this show.

Something in the Water – a subtly gospel-infused portrait of a hoosier chick who “drinks malt liquor for lunch and dinner,” and Manic Revelations, the title track to LaFarge’s previous album – went over well with the crowd, a refreshingly muiti-generational, multicultural mix of typical 99-percenter New Yorkers.

The band did Actin’ a Fool closer to subterranean homesick Dylan than the oldtimey swing of the album version. One of the night’s high points was a slowly crescendoing, blue-flame take of the flamenco-infused waltz Goodbye Barcelona. After LaFarge brought the lights down with a muted solo fingerpicked version of the cautionary ballad Far Away. “They’’ll lure with their eyes, and trap you with their thighs,” LaFarge intoned. He wound up the set with a rapidfire take of the triumphantly scampering Drinking Whiskey.

The encores were just as energetic and businesslike: an Allen Toussaint/Lee Dorsey soul-shout, and a choogling cover of Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell. They’re doing this again tonight at around 10 at Rough Trade. If you want a rare asshole-free night out in that neighborhood, this is it. Tix are $25 at the door and worth it.

A Soulful Coda for This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

This year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival has been one of the best ever, and the past few years have set a high standard. Sunday’s concluding show was Americana roots music, an annual tradition that goes back decades. The evening began with the impassioned, intense New York debut by a-cappella gospel trio the Como Mamas. If you were there, that was Ester Mae Smith with her raw but minutely nuanced, gravelly alto stage right, chirpy mezzo-soprano Della Daniels in the center and her sister, Angela Taylor, with her full, ripe, modulated alto to her left. The three women make Como, Mississippi’s Mt. Mariah Church their musical home, where their most recent Daptone album was recorded.

Their style of gospel has deep roots that sprang up here but ultimately look back to Africa: fans of Malian desert rock might be surprised to hear melodies much the same coming from these voices, and vice versa. It signifies like mad and transcends any specific Christian meaning – although the trio made clear that they were there to uplift and leave their very personal message of dedication to their Savior. The Como Mamas sing this raw, hypnotically vamping music as the leaders of a community sing rather than a concert, and they got plenty of clapping and a little singing out of the crowd. Smith led the group most of the time through labyrinthine polyrhythms punctuated by joyous shouts, poinpoint harmony and counterpoint as sophisticated as any classical composition. The subtext was crushing, especially in I Knew It Was the Blood, where the Crucifixion is depicted as the lynching that it truly was. Several of the other songs worked just as well in a secular context: the good God in this music is a standin for a man who isn’t cruel – or isn’t about to be sold off, or killed. Each of the group has her own distinctive style: Smith with the occasional rapidfire melisma, delivered with the same spine-tingling inflections every time; Daniels with her split-second, staccato timing and Taylor with her sometimes imploring, sometimes comforting resonance. They put to shame anyone who might get their idea of how to sing gospel from American Idol.

Motown co-writers Eddie and Brian Holland were next on the bill, along with a longtime piano sideman from their Detroit studio who backed them on brief excerpts from their Sixties pop classics when they weren’t being interviewed by the producer of a Motown-flavored musical. Tunesmith/sound engineer Brian kept very quiet, but his singer brother was game to fondly and wryly recall some of the events surrounding the songs. There wasn’t a lot of insight shed into how they were made, underscored by the fact that wordsmithing was never the Holland/Dozier/Holland brain trust’s strong suit. Eddie Holland seemed most proud of how New York producers, with their big multitrack studios, began to imitate the sound that he and the legendary Funk Brothers band created in a cramped Detroit garage basement.

Allen Toussaint, who has a new album recorded during his solo residency at Joe’s Pub last year due out from Rounder this fall, was next, playing elegant, rippling solo piano and sounding much younger than his 74 years. His glistening chords give away his classical inclinations; as a connoisseur of New Orleans piano, there’s no one more knowledgeable. When Henry Butler came on to vamp through a single cameo while Toussaint hurled Mardi Gras regalia into the crowd (including a football, which Toussaint sent on an impressive thirty-yard spiral), it was anticlimactic. Toussaint opened with There’s a Party Going On , entertained the crowd with bouncy versions of Yes We Can Can and Sneaking Sally Through the Alley along with a long medley of early 60s soul-pop hits. He showed off a dry, insightful wit with a tongue-in-cheek yuppie travelogue possibly titled Whatever Happened to Rock n Roll as well as a droll tribute to New York. He brought his hits What Do You Want the Girl to Do and Southern Nights back to their roots, with purist blues chops and lingering, summery, Debussy-esque atmospherics that had nothing to do with the Glenn Campbell mallstore radio hit. After a long romp that made boogie-woogie out of classical themes, Toussaint invited the crowd to join him on a singalong of Arlo Guthrie’s City of New Orleans: “C’mon,” he grinned, “All white folks know this one.” By now, it was past nine, headliner Bobby Rush was nowhere in sight and the storm clouds loomed closer and closer – and much as it would have been fun to stick around for the whole show, having spent the previous two nights in the park here, it was time to beat the rain. What an amazing three weeks it’s been out back in Damrosch Park!