Saturday, January 5, 2013

As I was scrolling through last week's Offbeat online newsletter and hit the new and upcoming LA-related releases section I noted a listing for "The Cosimo Matassa Story Volume 2." As Volume 1 proved such a revelatory listening experience and this installment was priced to move (less than $20 for a 4 CD set) on I put in my order. Upon receipt, I feverishly eyed the track listing and noted, vaguely, that a lot of titles seemed familiar -- but didn't think too hard on it.

On filling up the changer, hitting "Play" and then going about my business I, again and again, heard familiar tunes. A lot of 'em. AND a decent amount of music that was new to me and a welcome addition to my music library.

It's like this - Cosimo Matassa engineered, produced, owned the studio or released on his Rex label (or all four) a staggering amount of the music that came out of New Orleans for a couple decades. This output showed up on numerous labels including Aladdin, Savoy, Imperial, Specialty, Minit, Fury etc. and featured the biggest names to come out of New Orleans or at least record there including Fats Domino and Little Richards as well as countless others that only had a regional or local impact.

SO...if one, theoretically, had owned and operated Volume 1 of this series and were inspired to flesh out their collection with Fats Domino and Little Richard box sets and perhaps compilations of the output of the Minit and Ace Records labels -- well ALOT of that stuff was touched by the hand of Cosimo Matassa and, unsurprisingly is duplicated on TCMS Vol. 2.

Ergo, if, theoretically, Volume 1 had inspired you to go digging for more, Volume 2 will yield some great tracks you won't have heard before but a lot, you'll have already come across. So Volume 2 will function more like a killer mix tape of vintage NOLA R&B, RnR, Blues and Jump music than a treasure chest of hitherto unknown gems. IF, on the other hand, you were content with Volume 1, or perhaps you've NEVER looked into this sorta shizzle, Volume 2 is a GREAT place to start, or a good way to deepen your collection quickly, inexpensively yet prudently.

You'll likely wind up quickly charmed by the funky, gutbucket charms of Huey Piano Smith & his Clowns, Smiley Lewis, James Sugar Boy Crawford, Professor Longhair, Bobby Marchan, Shirley & Lee et al. I know that this stuff has pretty much ruined me in terms of taking folks like Rihanna, Maroon 5 etc. least over the past year or so.

There's just something alive and vital and kinda dangerous and attention grabbing about music where the tunings are slightly off and the beats aren't exact and the vocals are imperfect -- there's elements of indeterminacy, surprise, tension, semi-tones, elements that are intentionally built into Indian Classical music, that are long standing traditions in much of the traditional music that you'll find in cultures rimming the Mediterranean (these days you'll still find it in Middle Eastern and North African folk musics but if you go back to Alan Lomax's field recordings from Spain and Italy from the 1940's, it's there two -- in fact try comparing vintage Spanish folk musics and currently Egyptian traditional music, you'll be shocked methinks). Well, all that happened serendiptously in NOLA rock and R&B. Though it wasn't unwitting. I love the story in "It Came From Memphis" (I forget the author now) of Furry Lewis playing a festival at the Overton Band Shell and his accompanist, Lee Baker (at that point, a former member of the hard rock band Moloch, and not yet a member of Jim Dickinson's Mudboy and the Neutrons), sees Furry's guitar untended, picks it up, finds it out of tune and meticulously tuning it, to save Lewis the trouble. So, Furry comes back, picks up the guitar, gives it a strum and then, just as meticulously, tunes it back exactly to where it was originally. So there was intent and conscious artistry involved in some of these apparently raw, dissonant sounds.