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New Orleans CDs and a Mardi Gras vibe

Stewart Oksenhorn
New Orleans and Colorado band the subdudes, with singer-guitarist Tommy Malone, have released the CD "Behind the Levee." (Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen Times)
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It’s not that often when the absolutely proper thing called for is drinking too much, pigging out, publicly disrobing and yelling at people to give you things. But in this first post-Katrina Mardi Gras, showing solidarity with the bereaved folks of New Orleans, and all the affected surrounding areas, means indulging as they do down on the Bayou.Here’s some new music to put on while doing it.The subdudes, “Behind the Levee”produced by Keb’ Mo’ (Back Porch)Upon first listen to the latest by the subdudes, the sextet that splits its bases between New Orleans and Ft. Collins, I was bothered by the muted feel given to the band’s brand of soul-rock. Maybe, I thought, bringing in Keb’ Mo’, known for his mellow folk-blues, as producer was a misstep.But in the wake of Katrina, the tone here seems prescient, if less than invigorating than the usual subdudes. In fact, I suspect that, post-Katrina, the ‘dudes messed around with the track order on “Behind the Levee.” The advance CD I received opens with the celebratory “Social Aid and Pleasure Club”; the final album kicks off with the more low-key “Papa Dukie & The Mud People” and follows with the heartfelt “Next to Me,” which in more normal times would sound like a standard romance, but now has a New Orleans overtone: “Your home is right here next to me,” sing Tommy Malone and John Magnie in moving harmony. The languorous “Time for the Sun to Rise,” too, gets an extra boost of meaning and emotion in light of current conditions.

Several of the more lighthearted tunes, like “Let’s Play,” fall flat, regardless of the timing. But “Behind the Levee” ends on an ideal emotional note, with “Prayer of Love,” which speaks of having faith in “troubled, soul-searching times.”It’s not the subdudes’ best, and certainly not their most energized work. But the subdued tones feel right for the moment.Dukes of Dixieland, “New Orleans Mardi Gras”produced by Richard Taylor, Brian O’Neill and Dickie Taylor (Leisure Jazz)The Dukes of Dixieland made “New Orleans Mardi Gras” under harried circumstances, Katrina-related and otherwise. Recording was finished days before the hurricane hit, at New Orleans’ Ultrasonic Studios, and the tapes were brought to Lafayette just before Ultrasonic was wiped out. Guest trombonist Brian O’Neill died within 24 hours of final mixing, while performing at a club at the top of the New Orleans World Trade Center.But “New Orleans Mardi Gras” is untouched by the sadness; this is a recording to make you forget your troubles. The Dukes play the Mardi Gras standards – “Carnival Time,” “Go to the Mardi Gras,” “Big Chief” and “Hey Pocky Way” – in a style that combines street parade beats with horn arrangements that are more sophisticated than the norm. Vocalist Luther Kent and the six-piece horn section take the party slightly above the street level, but keep the energy intact.

Porter Batiste Stoltz, “Expanding the Funkin Universe”produced by Porter Batiste Stoltz (OUW Records)You’d think any recorded appearance, or near appearance, by the Meters, the quintessential New Orleans funk band, would be welcome. (This one counts as a near appearance: bassist George Porter is an original members of the Meters; drummer Russell Batiste and guitarist Brian Stoltz were part of the reformed ’90s version of the band. The PBS trio excludes keyboardist-singer Art Neville.)But this is perfunctory funk. The sound quality is thin and, despite the title, “Expanding the Funkin Universe” relies on almost all old ideas. And they desperately miss Neville, both the added texture of his organ and his vocals.But there is very good news on the Meters front. The original quartet – drummer Zigaboo Modeliste and guitarist Leo Nocentelli, plus Porter and Neville – have taken their reunion gig from last year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and extended it. They perform next month at Florida’s Langerado festival and an opening gig for the Rolling Stones in Ft. Lauderdale, with a full tour expected to be announced.

Corey Harris, “Daily Bread”produced by Scott Billington and Steve Reynolds (Rounder)Roots singer and guitarist Corey Harris has been a world traveler, putting down roots and soaking up styles in Africa, his current hometown of Charlottesville, Va., and his native Denver. But New Orleans seems to exert the strongest pull; he has returned there several times, and continues to find inspiration and collaborators there. “Daily Bread” features New Orleans pianist Henry Butler on several tracks.Mostly what Harris takes from New Orleans is the idea that all styles can blend together in wonderful ways. Just as the city built its cultural reputation by serving as a melting pot for African, Caribbean and Native American roots, Harris takes from all ports. “Daily Bread,” then, isn’t standard New Orleans sounds, but a gumbo of reggae, Delta blues, acoustic rock and funk. The breezy, island-kissed “Got to Be a Better Way” is a highlight; “Mami Wata,” featuring Mississippi singer-trumpeter Olu Dara, is a masterful mix of blues, African and New Orleans jazz. Harris gets political on the ska-influenced “The Bush Is Burning,” a scorching criticism of American aggression.Chris Thomas King, “Red Mud Sessions”produced by Hammon Scott and King (21st Century Blues)Chris Thomas King left his native Louisiana to dabble in guitar pyrotechnics, hip-hop/blues fusions, and even some acting. But in 1996, he settled in New Orleans, and in 1998 he recorded sessions of Delta-style blues tunes on acoustic and steel guitars and harmonica. Those tracks are now released as the “Red Mud Sessions” and show King to be a skillful if hardly definitive updater of the old blues. Most of the songs are his own, but they are crafted from a mold set down long ago. Among his best contributions to the style is “If It Ain’t One Thing, It’s Two”; he also covers tunes by Robert Johnson and Son House. Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com


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