In the January 2012 edition of Offbeat magazine, the brilliant music writer, John Swenson, identified “The 40 Best Louisiana Albums of 2011.” Needless to say, I can’t argue with someone of his caliber, in large part because his musical range and expertise is far greater than mine. However, I can laud his “best of” list while identifying some of my favorites that are part of it. And for the most part, I was not disappointed in his selections.
Most of my picks are in the top 20, so I was a little disappointed to see Galactic’s The Other Side of Midnight in the second half of Swenson’s ranking. It is Galactic’s first live album in a decade, and collaborations with New Orleans artists give it great traction. It includes performances by Trombone Shorty, Corey Henry, and the Soul Rebels Brass Band; however, I am most drawn to tracks with the timeless Cyril Neville and singular Big Freedia.
In the top 20, Swenson has American Legacies, a singular smash-up between the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Del McCoury Band. It is a brilliant paring of traditional jazz and blue grass, although some of the tracks do feel a bit contrived and transitions jarring. However, upon further visits, it seems to make more sense. I like it.
When it comes to the Rebirth Brass Band, I have a hard time being objective. Suffice it to say, I was pleased that their Rebirth of New Orleans was at Swenson’s number 10. There is much to like here and let’s admit it, it’s just plain fun. If asked to pick favorites, I’d give a nod towards the raucous “I Like It Like That,” “A. P. Touro,” and their update of the traditional tune, “Exactly Like You.” Flea Broussard’s sax on “What Goes Around Comes Around” is worth the price of admission, alone.
At number eight, I love everything about Dr. Michael White’s new album except for the title. When he told me it was called Adventures in New Orleans Music Part One, I had an unmistakable flashback to music appreciation classes in middle school. But the album is far greater than that. White’s ensemble is superlative, with White’s rich clarinet, Gregg Stafford’s trumpet and vocals, and Lucien Barbarin’s trombone — incomparable musicianship . And White’s arrangements, traditional in idiom, but fresh and modern in application, is stunning. His duet on “House of the Rising Sun” with Detroit Brooks on banjo is haunting and oh so memorable.
At number six, Swenson has Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses. Again, I have a hard time being objective on this one. The first time I saw her playing with the Panorama Jazz Band, I instantly fell in love. The energy, fun, and joy that she puts into her playing the sax is a musical contagion. And that is present throughout this tribute to the great New Orleans clarinet/soprano sax player, Sidney Bechet. The sound level on vocals could be stronger, but the loving treatment of these traditional jazz chestnuts is priceless.
At number one is my number one for the year: Trombone Shorty’s For True. Of all the New Orleans musicians I think have the stuff to make a mark nationally, from Kermit Ruffins to Big Freedia, I think Trombone Shorty is first in line. This album put him on the late night circuit. His “For True” provides the background music for one of Ashton Kutcher’s Canon camera commercials. It is clear that the time is ripe for “supafunkrock.”
So, a great year in 2011. Looking forward to an even better year in 2012. And while you are waiting, get out there an enjoy some great New Orleans music.