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CD Reviews

Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Weekly
The Blind Boys of Alabama, featuring singer Clarence Fountain, left, collaborate with New Orleans musicians on Down in New Orleans. (Stewart Oksenhorn/Aspen Times Weekly)
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Option No. 1 for Mardi Gras: Head to New Orleans and get in the thick of the craziness.Option No. 2: Cook a pot of gumbo and put on a stack of New Orleans-inspired CDs.Heres a look at some recent CDs from down in Louisiana.Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans produced by Chris Goldsmith (Time Life) The Blind Boys are old boys. The band has been in business since 1939; current leader Jimmy Carter joined five years later. But theyre learning new tricks. For Down in New Orleans, the gospel group headed to the Big Easy and hooked up with local icons, pianists Allen Toussaint and David Torkanowsky and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. The combination goes down like red beans and rice (even if former Blind Boys leader 78-year-old Clarence Fountain and his thunderous voice are absent). Generally, the thicker the New Orleans flavor whether its Toussaints rollicking piano on If I Could Help Somebody or the horns of the Hot 8 Brass band the heavier the spirit here. George Porter Jr., Its Life produced by Porter George Porter Jr., the foundation of seminal New Orleans funk outfit the Meters, is among the most influential bassists ever, anywhere. Which doesnt mean Porters solo work matches the Meters, and it usually hasnt. Here, hes at least taking a big swing. Its Life features seven new original songs, plus covers of Curtis Mayfield and, in a reach, Seals & Crofts We May Never Pass This Way Again. Porter rounds up a big team of players, including latter-day Meters drummer Russell Batiste Jr. and guitarist Brian Stoltz. But Porters music, more r&b than funk, doesnt stack up to past accomplishments. Thats life. Bonerama, Bringing It Home produced by Mark Mullins and Tracey Freeman (Highsteppin Productions) A gimmick a band fronted by four trombonists that doesnt sound like one. Bringing It Home catches Bonerama in their best setting live, at home in New Orleans, at the legendary club Tipitinas. The material, mostly instrumental, ranges from rock classics (Led Zeppelins Ocean and the Beatles Helter Skelter) to classic Meters (Cabbage Alley) to a twisted, but surprisingly subtle take on real jazz (Thelonious Monks Epistrophy). Harry Connick Jr., Chanson du Vieux Carr produced by Tracey Freeman (Marsalis Music) Note: This is not Harry Connick crooner. Connick sticks to the piano for this virtually all-instrumental tribute to his hometown. Theres lots of horns here, but the Louisiana vibe comes more through the choice of material Bourbon Street Parade, Sidney Bechets Petite Fleur, Connicks Ash Wednesday and Connicks own subtle sense of his hometown rhythms than a desire to play an obvious, recognizable New Orleans style. Connick saves the best for last a distinctive take on Professor Longhairs Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Kermit Ruffins, Live at Vaughans produced by Ruffins & Tracey Freeman (Basin Street) With his Barbecue Swingers, Kermit Ruffins became known as a Louis Armstrong-style singer-trumpeter. Here, Ruffins swings in a different direction. Live at Vaughans is not a sequel to his 1998 CD of the same name, though credited to the Barbecue Swingers. On this live recording, made in the New Orleans club where he has been a Thursday night fixture for 15 years, Ruffins is accompanied by electric keyboards and bass guitar. The result is something nearly as close to rock as to jazz, even on the standard World on a String (and especially on Sly & the Family Stones If You Want Me to Stay). Marc Cohn, Join the Parade produced by Charlie Sexton and Cohn (Decca) Singer-songwriter Marc Cohn was shot in the head during a Denver car-jacking the same month that Katrina clobbered New Orleans. He seems to conflate the two events on Join the Parade, with themes of survival and ghosts, and clear nods to Louisiana. If I Were an Angel is irresistible.Further note: Two more outstanding recent New Orleans CDs have already been reviewed in The Aspen Times: Galactics hip-hop CD From the Corner to the Block, and A Tale of Gods Will (A Requiem for Katrina), by trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard. stewart@aspentimes.com


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