Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Frenchman Street Blues

One night we were watching some episode of season 2 of HBO's "Treme;" the episode ends, credits roll, someone counts off "1-2, 1-2-3-4!" and an incredibly infectious brass-driven groove kicks in - easily one of the most exciting pieces of music I'd heard in quite a while. After checking with the "Treme Explained" blog at I discover that the performance is of "Knock With Me Rock With Me" by the Lil Rascals Brass Band, vocals provided by one Glen David Andrews (I highly recommend you buy a download of this track at your earliest convenience).

As the weeks roll by and I read over more installments of "TE" I note his name popping up kinda regularly, often referring to the fact that he'd turned from habitually hanging with the more criminal elements around town to becoming more socially conscious and trying to discourage inter-clique violence and the like. He was one of the key speakers at the march against violent crime that ended up at New Orleans city hall where many voiced dissatisfaction with the police departments apparent disinterest and ineffectiveness at maintaining the peace as well as acknowledging that communities needed do what they could within their own neighborhoods to discourage and not condone, tolerate or glorify violent crime.

Suddenly I had credit for a free download from and purchased "Knock With Me..." and wound up playing it incessantly for a good week, and then purchased a copy of the full album "Buck It Like A Horse." While the rest of the album doesn't quite measure up to the "Knock With Me..." and most other tracks are instrumentals it is high spirited, motorvating stuff throughout. I really don't regret the purchase.

But I was left jonesing for more of Andrews and eventually wound up buying downloads of "Walking Through Heaven's Gate" - a gospel album - and "Dumaine Street Blues" - relaxed Hot Jazz i.e. brass, banjo and vocals. The former was fine stuff -- full choir backed by full electric band and Glen's powerful, raw voice shines throughout. But it was all a bit too pat. No surprises, no twists. Honestly, any able singer could have turned in the same effort. "Dumaine Street Blues" - also very able, but also pat -- really sounded like Andrews trying to fill the shoes that Kermit Ruffins appears to be vacating as starts cashing in on his national visibility via "Treme," playing more and more out of town dates, abandoning his residency at Vaughn's, etc (and no shame in trying to spread his down and dirty, good time trad jazz around the country -- and THIS is the time, not in 5 years when "Treme"'s history).

Still -- that voice! The fire he brought to "Knock With Me..." couldn't be a fluke. So as we started planning our most recent jaunt to NOLA we were hoping he'd be playing, and indeed he was - Monday night at DBA, last night of our stay. We started the evening with excellent FREE red beans and rice at Tujacuqes on Decatur street with our friends Tom and Arion, then dropped in on Jan and Claudia who brought us up to date on their tussling with insurance agents and various government officials to be able to finally start repairing fire damage to their house in the Vieux Carre, then on to DBA.

We arrived a little late but still early in Glen David Andrews and company's set. He was backed by tuba, guitar, drums and sax if I recall; he was singing and occasionally blowing some trombone.

The place was packed, spirits were high and Glen obviously was aiming to please.

The set was loaded with tried and true New Orleans crowd-pleasers, songs made popular by Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, John Boute's "Treme" theme song, gospel, Dr. John. It was the New Orleans greatest hits set-list that anyone who'd gone to a Fat Tuesday party anywhere in the country would feel right at home with. As the set proceeded, Glen regularly touted his "Live At The Three Muses" (this being a club/restaurant a block or so down Frenchman Street) and both he and another band member walked through the crowd while the rest of the band vamped on selling the CD (and how could I not under the circumstances?)

One also began to note that he spent more time dancing (quite agiley and athletically!), kibitzing with the band, exhorting the audience to dance, twirl hankies in the air (a Second Line tradition), leading them in "Who dat" chants, and so on than he did singing per se or playing trombone. A lot of songs went on a LONG time without very much happening except the band vamping while he capered.

In the final analysis, Glen's talent as a singer and frontman were firmly established but as a band leader, it seems he's got some growing to do. Or not. Not to sound too presumptuous but if you were a "Treme" devotee making your first trip to New Orleans and caught this set, you'd likely think you could check a dozen musical must-dos off your list. True dat. This is the perfect Cliff Notes version of the contemporary trad-based New Orleans music scene. A fine starting place.

If you've already done a bit more delving however it'd come off as a bit shallow, lacking in following the various genres and traditions touched on into their deeper and more distinctive/eccentric recesses.

I STILL think Glen David Andrews is a massive talent and if he were willing and able to apply himself to any one of the stylistic areas he's able to reference glibly and really put his heart into the music, instead of into pleasing as big an audience as possible I think he'd make some incredible, mind-blowing music.

"Live At the Three Muses" basically documents the sort of set we saw that night at DBA. So, if you've got a "Treme" loving friend who bought the soundtrack albums and wants just a little bit more, this would be a nice gift for 'em. Or yourself if you're looking to put your second toe into the water.

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 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?