CD reviews: A taste of New Orleans | AspenTimes.com
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CD reviews: A taste of New Orleans

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesBritish-based, New Orleans-inspired band the New Mastersounds, with guitarist Eddie Roberts, has released the CD, Plug & Play. The band performs March 25 at Belly Up Aspen.
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Reasons Ive got New Orleans on my mind: Mardi Gras a few weeks ago. Spoke with Randy Newman who, it turns out, didnt live in New Orleans for long, but wrote maybe the great New Orleans song (Louisiana 1927) and still has the citys groove all over his piano-playing. Ricky, the guy at the helm of this newspaper, is heading back home for a visit Baton Rouge, actually, but with a stop in the Big Easy. And for some reason, Ive had a hankering for Popeyes fried chicken. But thats only been for the last 18 years.Last, I received CDs recently from the New Mastersounds and John Scofield. So the former is English, and the latter from upstate New York. But give them a listen, and you see where the music is really coming from.The New Mastersounds, Plug & Play, produced by Eddie Roberts (One Note Records)The New Mastersounds, from Leeds, U.K., draw from various bags of funk: soul jazz, little touches of Africa. But at times including the opening track here, Hole in the Bag youd think you had unearthed the great lost sessions from the ultimate New Orleans groove machine, the Meters. Theres guitarist Eddie Roberts chicken-scratch picking; the irresistible backbeat from drummer Simon Allen; the Hammond B-3 organ; the stop-and-start rhythms.The band throws out some other ideas: Vocalist Dionne Charles appears on several tracks for an R&B feel; an African groove emerges on Kuna Mutata, thanks in part to guest singer Troy Tuscan. And several tracks appear as remixed versions, with Hole in the Bag getting a hip-hop flavor.The New Mastersounds appear March 25 at Belly Up Aspen.John Scofield, Piety Street, (Emarcy)Piety Street is being pitched as the blues record by jazz guitarist John Scofield. Apparently, Scofield associates the blues with New Orleans. He brings in a cast of Louisiana players to back him, including Meters bassist George Porter Jr., singer John Boutt, percussionist Shannon Powell, and Jon Cleary, a keyboardist and singer who is English-born, but a New Orleans resident for two decades. Scos blues also include a gospel perspective, as he tackles material like Old Ship of Zion, Walk With Me and His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Piety Street alternates between tracks that are given thought-out arrangements (Somethings Got a Hold On Me, which has a bit of avant-jazz groove flavor and street-corner doo-wop), and tunes that sound more like jam sessions (Its a Big Army). With Scofield in his usual fine form, it should be a contender for blues album of the year. Or gospel album of the year. Or New Orleans album of the year.The subdudes, Live at the Rams Head, produced by Jerel Jones (Biographica)The subdudes, a soul-rock group with feet in New Orleans and Ft. Collins, put out their first live CD, Live at Last, in 1996 a year after they disbanded. And it sounded like a band on their last legs, done without much heart or care. Now that they are back together and rolling like in the early days, they give the live album another shot. Live at the Rams Head, recorded last year, is their redemption. The two-CD set (also available as a DVD) doesnt fully capture the magic the band brings to the stage, but that is probably asking the impossible. It does find the dudes sounding great, in playful spirits. The vocal interplay on the raucous Late at Night is the band at its soulful heights. Those looking for early material might be disappointed; most of the songs are from the post-break-up period.Humble suggestion: For the next live album, try recording in New Orleans, rather than Annapolis, Md. That might provide the spark.Irma Thomas, Simply Grand, produced by Scott Billington (Rounder)Irma Thomas, known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, goes with an interesting theme on Simply Grand: Each track prominently features a guest pianist, and most of the notable Southern Louisiana pianists are included: Ellis Marsalis, Jon Cleary, Marcia Ball, and Dr. John, who contributes to a pair of excellent vocal-and-piano duets. Some of the guests have slighter New Orleans connections (Randy Newman, who plays on his own I Think Its Going to Rain Today); others Norah Jones, John Medeski have little direct connection, though in Medeskis case, he takes the opportunity to work out his impressive New Orleans technique on Somebody Told You. Much of the material comes from New Orleans, but here too there are exceptions: Burt Bacharachs What Can I Do, and the inspired standout track, John Fogertys The River Is Waiting, with pianist Henry Butler, which sounds like it was just waiting for this interpretation.The 68-year-old Thomas stands tall amid all the keyboard talent, with a strong voice that jumps comfortably between blues, pop, jazz and gospel.stewart@aspentimes.com


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