Aspen Times Weekly cover story: Marc Broussard rings in the new year
ASPEN – Music was enough of a presence in the house that Broussard, now 30, is able to pinpoint the first four songs he knew: Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” Stevie Wonder’s “The Candy Man” and the Beatles’ “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.” Three are by black singers, and how a Beatles song got into the mix, Broussard isn’t sure. “That was a really rare pull, because I don’t think my dad ever showed me a Beatles album, never discussed a Beatles album at any length,” Broussard said. “In fact, I remember him during a point from the early ’70s when he shunned rock ‘n’ roll, gravitated toward soul and jazz.”The other songs became the foundation of Broussard’s musical personality. “I was 5 or 6 at the time, and that explains why they would be so influential on me,” he said. “I sang them with family and friends. Then I’d get up onstage with my dad and get my one song before helping my dad pack up the gear.”Broussard recalls clearly the first time he performed. It was a gig in Destin, Fla., and each year Ted Broussard would schedule a family vacation around the trip. When Marc was 5, he joined his father to sing “Johnny B. Goode.”There was one moment when Broussard considers that he parted ways with his musical roots. At 18, living a few miles south in New Iberia (to get to New Iberia, you drive through the town of Broussard), he joined a band that was an offshoot of a Christian youth group. “That lasted all of about eight months. Not very rock ‘n’ roll when you think about it,” he said. “I think I’ve always tried to maintain a sense of staying true to what brought me here.”
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Broussard started his career early; by 18, he was making up to $500 a night in his Friday night bar gig around Lafayette. In 2004, Broussard released “Carencro,” his first album for the Island label. It established his style, Bayou soul, a mix of swampy blues, and r&b, both old school and modern varieties. Two years later Broussard recorded his follow-up, an album he categorizes as “modern soul,” but Island head L.A. Reid rejected the album.”It was pointed out that it was too urban. Which meant I was too white to be putting out an album like that,” Broussard said. “The impression I got initially from L.A. Reid, when he saw me at South by Southwest, he said he loved what I do. He was singing the words from ‘Carencro.’ Then I make a record and can’t even get him to listen to it.”I’ve run into walls trying to sing stuff that hearkens back to old soul.”Shut down as a singer of classic soul, uninterested in doing contemporary, pop-inflected r&b, Broussard finds himself taking a different path altogether. Not long ago he heard, on the soundtrack to “The Devil’s Double,” a documentary about Saddam Hussein’s family, a track by the British band, the Veils. The song, “Jesus for the Jugular,” was spiky and raw, nothing like the music Broussard played – or like anything he had heard.”I’d never made a record like that. And I thought, I really want to now. That started me on this whole path,” he said. Broussard is looking at going into the studio next month, and hoping to release his next album in the middle of next year. He expects it to reflect a strong rock influence.”I’m pulling from the Black Crowes and Bob Seger more than Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder,” he said. “It’s just where I’ve gravitated to. Adele and Amy Winehouse were able to pull off this neo-soul thing that sounds great. But what the White Stripes and Black Keys have been able to pull off is just as great, just as authentic. And very American.”Broussard grew up in Lafayette Parish, in the thick of Cajun culture. His grandparents spoke French and his uncles played in the band of Cajun singer Jo-El Sonnier. “But my dad, being the jazz head he was, rejected that music. We weren’t exposed to it very much,” he said.Over the last few years, Broussard has corrected that omission. He recently recorded a four-song EP that includes “Au Long de la Riviere,” about a fishing camp he frequents; “Paradis,” recorded with New Orleans musician Anders Osborne; and Mardi Gras tune. All sales proceeds will go to victims of Hurricane Sandy.”It’s definitely a different direction. It’s all about Louisiana,” Broussard said.When Broussard plays the New Year’s Eve gig at the Wheeler Opera House – a party that features open bar and viewing of the fireworks over Aspen Mountain from the Wheeler’s second-floor lobby – he’ll have multiple styles to choose from. It might make little difference whether he plays edgy rock or old-school soul or Louisiana-flavored sounds; Broussard’s show earlier this year, at the Wheeler’s 7908 Songwriters Festival, earned thumbs-up from all sorts of listeners. Broussard vows he will simply follow where his ears lead him.”People expect a party band for New Year’s,” he said. “We’re not a party band. I can throw a party, don’t get me wrong. But I’m an artist. I’m just going where the music is taking me.”
Audiences at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ JAS Caf have come to expect the kind of music generally associated with dark, intimate rooms like the one downstairs at the Little Nell hotel. Over the past two years, the JAS Caf has become a spot for acoustic jazz – generally traditional jazz, but often spiced with New Orleans, gypsy or Latin accents.Those in attendance Thursday and Friday, Dec. 27-28, to see Allan Harris perform, should get something along those straightahead-jazz lines. Tony Bennett has called the New York City-born Harris his favorite singer, and “Open Up Your Mind,” Harris’ 2011 album, drew comparisons to Nat King Cole.But listeners might get something more, outside the traditional jazz boundaries. Harris, in association with Theatre Aspen, has been at work on an original musical about a freed slave who wants to become a cowboy. Harris, a guitarist as well as a singer, typically performs songs from that project in his sets.Aspen audiences will get a deeper look at Harris’ Western side this summer, when Theatre Aspen will present the musical as a work in email@example.com
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