Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Consuming Passion

We went to New Orleans in December. Had a great time. Visited with dear friends, ate good food and bought up a buncha good stuff.

"Lives Interrupted" by Keith Spera - an account of several iconic New Orleans performers who've faced various trials in recent years including Fats Domino during the Federal Flood (what the rest of us call "Hurricane Katrina") and Mystikal doing time in the stir - got it signed by Keith and gave it as an Xmas present.

"Daisy Buchanan's Daughter" by Tom Carson - a work of sarky fiction by GQ movie critic - a sequel to The Great Gatsby. Purchased at the mighty Faulkner House book shop - got it signed and gave as an Xmas present as well.

A book on Storyville (tome's downstairs so I can't give you title or author). But an interesting batch of essays on various aspects of the establishment and functioning of the U.S.'s original almost legal red light district. There's chapters on the early history of vice in New Orleans (that mentions that the French emptied a couple prisons and transported the inmates to their American colony to provide wives for the settlers - THANKS!), on music in Storyville, on the entrepeneurs who profitted from the enterprise (and beyond the Madams there were lotsa "respectable" citizens bankrolling the houses and benefitting from their operation). Also includes a number of previously published photos by EJ Bellocq and some that were previously unpublished. And I came across this book looking for a copy of "Storyville Portraits" - originally a catalogue published by the MET in NYC in conjunction with the first exhibition of these beautiful and thought provoking photographs. No one in NOLA had it in stock and apparently they go for a pretty penny when they do come in (I got one for $50 from Abebooks when I got home).

AND THEN -- I'd planned on doing some intensive shopping at New Orleans Music Factory on Decatur street and when I saw that Keith Spera was doing a book signing there on Saturday scheduled my visit around that. And let me tell ya -- that was a scene you'd only find in New Orleans! During Keith's signing Ellis Marsalis - Wynton's pop - was performing on the store's tiny stage, promoting his own Christmas CD. He was followed by Chris Thomas - the gent who played the Robert Johnson character in the Coen Bros. "O Brother Where Art Thou". Yeah, all in one afternoon, all free.

Louisiana Music Factory is your standard, comfortably lived in old school record store. Decent sized but not huge. The fittings could have been installed anytime from 1960 onwards. It's one of those places that looks and feels like a haven for music FREAKS. And infamous for the amount of New Orleans related recordings they keep in stock which is likely about 90% of the stock. So the mind is summarily boggled. In fact, it's taken 10 years of visiting and two years of actually doing some serious study of NOLA music history to be able to navigate it meaningfully.

Even in this age of iTunes and Amazon.com there's STILL stuff you'll ONLY find here (at least at a reasonable price). I'll expound on these in the future but for now just listing:

Treme Brass Band "Gimme My Money Back" - an old school brass band as opposed to the the relatively younger breed ala Rebirth or Soul Rebels and this line up features Kermit Ruffins and James Andrews

Various Artists "Ace Story Volume 1" - Ace was the label run by former Specialty Records A&R man Johnny Vincent - lotta virulent, greasy, downhome R&B, rock 'n' roll and swamp pop all unmistakably flavored with that distinctive NOLA tinge - even if was recorded elsewhere in the South

Ernie K. Doe "Here Come the Girls" - 2 CD retrospective on UK Charlie label - and I knew from reading Offbeat that it was on sale for the month of December for $15.99. These are all Toussaint produced and (largely) composed and cover both Toussaint's rollicking R&B style (i.e. "Mother In Law") as well as the distinctive funk style he developed when the Meters became his house band.

Wardell Quezerque "Sixty Smokin Soul Senders" - Quezerque, as I've mentioned before, is not nearly as well known as his rival songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint outside of NOLA but at home he was held in high esteem indeed by the local musicians of note including Toussaint who called him "the Black Bach" and the "Creole Beethoven." This 2 CD set indeed collects 60 of his 60's soul sides cut with a variety of singers, most of whom only had local success. But throughout this is raw, funky and heartfelt. And if a lot of tracks clearly are trying to appropriate contemporary stylistic vocabularies from Memphis, Detroit and Muscle Shoals, no question but that Wardell did in fact master them all and with the right distribution could have been a major hitmaker on a national level.

ALSO - we ended our visit at DBA on Monday night (after chowing down on free red beans and rice at Tujacques) where Glen David Andrews was playing. This is something I couldn't miss as his performance with the Lil Rascals Brass Band on "Knock With Me, Rock With Me" is one of the most startling, powerful and original musical performances I've heard in the past 5 years. And he was hawking a "Live At the Three Muses" CD at the show -- how could I pass that up?


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