New Orleans singer John Boutté returns to Aspen
If You Go …
Who: John Boutté
Where: JAS Café at the Aspen Art Museum
When: Saturday, July 30, 9:15 p.m.
How much: $45
John Boutte’s voice is a sweet, caramel croon that’s as instantly recognizable and inextricably linked to his hometown New Orleans.
The 57-year-old New Orleans native and U.S. Army officer-turned-singer can do up-tempo jazz, like his infectious “Treme Song,” which has become his best-known original since it was used as the theme song for the HBO series “Treme.” He can use his voice for R&B foot-tappers like his homage to the fellow performers in his family, “Sisters,” and he can fit it into the folk and Americana mold for his frequent collaborations with Paul Sanchez, the former Cowboy Mouth guitarist turned singer-songwriter.
Boutte is a consummate New Orleans performer. You can depend on him showing up onstage at any of the city’s multitude of festivals, and his weekly sets at d.b.a New Orleans on Frenchman Street have long been a must for locals and tourists alike.
Boutte doesn’t tour much. You usually have to trek down to the Crescent City to see him. He made his local debut tour years ago at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience — winning a local following and performing a memorable “Treme Song” with fellow New Orleanian Trombone Shorty. Boutte returns to Aspen for a show Saturday night at the JAS Cafe at the Aspen Art Museum.
Boutte has a knack for making others’ music his own — performing covers that somehow aren’t derivative. He has put a jazzy or Creole soul twist on songs like Leonard Cohen’s “That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” and Allen Toussaint’s “All These Things.” Recent projects have included renditions of songs as diverse as Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” and George Crawford’s “The Pencil Broke (And That’s All She Wrote).”
“I might be a pretty good singer, but there are some better writers in the world, and I try to give expression to their words,” he told The Aspen Times during his last run through town.
His soulful voice, over the past decade or so, has often spoken for post-Katrina New Orleans. His cover of Annie Lennox’s “Why” improbably became an anthem for the city in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.
“People will come up and say, ‘You wrote that?’ And I say, ‘I’m going to take the Fifth on that.’ It’s nice to be associated with some beautiful songs. I like to interpret tunes,” Boutte said.
His update of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” performed live at the 2006 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and known informally as “Louisiana 2005,” made for one of the most powerful and cathartic experiences this writer has ever had with live music. Boutte subbed out the characters in Newman’s tale of the 1927 Mississippi River flood for those of Katrina — President Bush replacing President Coolidge, the Lower 9th Ward instead of Evangeline Parish and “this Creole’s land” replacing “this poor cracker’s land.” Delivering to a crowd of New Orleanians living in the wake of the tragedy, eight months after the floodwaters receded, with the surrounding Mid-City and Gentilly neighborhoods still a post-apocalyptic mess, Boutte voiced the city’s pain, rage and perseverance as nobody else could.
“People always seem to turn me on to tunes at the right time,” he said, explaining that a friend suggested he cover Newman’s song that spring. “I loved it. The chords were simple, the melody was so powerful. I grabbed that and it was like therapy to sing it. … I looked around and everyone was crying — the guys were crying, the kids were looking up at their parents crying. It was something.”
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