When the album is named #imsoneworleans, it is easier to talk about what it is and what it is not. Kermit Ruffi ns’ latest is a love letter to the Crescent City. It is a smooth yet unpolished jazz record. It is not a collection of Second Line tunes or cuts as funky as last week’s supper or trunk rattling brass band numbers that will jar your speaker screws loose. It’s sweet and shiny even though the city it refl ects isn’t always the same. The album starts off with a nice swinging number from the pit master and would-be trumpet king that sets the standard for the album that it shares a name with. It ends with a slow number that unfolds while Ruffi ns gives a reading of Tweet-like boasts about the city — places Ruffi ns went to school, playing Atari at Fats Domino’s house, swimming in the Industrial Canal, catching and frying up canal bullfrogs, smoking weed with his mom. In the middle of the two is a love letter to the city via a couple of covers — “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” “Jock-a-Mo (Iko Iko)” and “Tipitina.” His unique and time-worn voice fi ts the Professor Longhair tune especially well. (In a twist, it starts slow and playfully). Ruffi ns also reworks some of his old standards crafted while he was with the Rebirth Brass Band (steel drums added to “Mexican Special,” plus a new version of “Put Your Right Foot Forward”). At only nine tracks — and nine that do not push any boundaries or forge new ground — it won’t make or break a record collection. Still, #imsoneworleans is a fi tting dedication to a city Ruffi ns is proud to call home.
We Love You Leroy!
The title of Leroy Thomas’ new record makes it seem like the crowd-pleasing accordion man has left us. He hasn’t. Judging by the cuts on the record, he is very much alive. Not only alive, he’s set in doing his own thing, and that is not conforming to whatever sound is popular in the young zydeco scene today. Instead, he is channeling Geno Delafose sometimes with a touch of roughness like the late Zydeco Joe.
We Love you Leroy! is a trip through his tastes in music. While there are some familiar choices — the oft-covered “Cherokee Waltz” — Thomas picks some tunes that set him apart. He visits “Wagon Wheel” by Bob Dylan and “Rock Me Baby” by Melvin Jackson, with his father singing lead vocals. On “Wagon Wheel,” he shows his adoration for old school zydeco, even bringing Travis Matte in on fi ddle. “Rock Me Baby” is a blues number. The versatility is welcome change.
Thomas shifts gears and source genres frequently, covering Ray Charles “What I Say,” Rosie Ledet’s “Hey Goffi e,” Rodney Crowell’s “Stars on the Water” and Junior Melancon’s “Havin’ Fun.” Although he varies his approach, it is without succumbing to the urge to carbon copy the material.
Yet, the record’s originals are worth repeating too. There will never be another Zydeco Joe, but Thomas gives it a good shot via “She Can’t Hen Like She Did Back Then,” his answer to “Rooster.” While Joe claimed he could still rooster like he used to, Thomas maligns that “she used to rub lotion but now she rubs Ben Gay.”
Thomas is doing well on the zydeco circuit, and this collection of his work and well-picked choices of others done in a new light — a zydeco take on “Wagon Wheel,” come on! — shows why.
WILL PAYNE HARRISON
The press on Will Payne Harrison’s Louisiana Summer notes his once-local status (and membership in The Onlies) and that you “can’t take the Louisiana out of the Cajun.” You won’t fi nd waltzes, two steps or anything of the sort on these 11 tracks. Instead, it is pared down, soft and easygoing folk Americana.
For the most part, it is Harrison, his guitar and his soul. The closest resemblances to Louisiana here are Tom Petty’s “Louisiana Rain,” which he covers well, and “Pretty Girl from Youngsville.” Yet, neither one has a real connection outside of the name.
What the line might really refer to is his spirit.
Harrison wrote, engineered, mixed and mastered the record on his own, with guest spots from three musicians. Outside of that DIY gumption, Harrison also sports the Cajun translation of pain and sorrow into fi ne music. An honest performer, Harrison — now a Nashville resident — offers a chunk of his heart on tracks like “Clarity.” Here he relates that, “It’s not easy to fi nd out who you are, until you know who you’ve been.” He’s got a good way with words too: on the aforementioned “Pretty Girl …” he confesses, “That night when your hand slid into mine, I fi nally believed in the stopping of time.”
A friend of the Rayo Brothers, his string-only sound is kin, but less Old West and more heartfelt. He may not sound Cajun, but in the spirit of Cajun music, Harrison leaves it all out there, raw emotions and all.
KEVIN NAQUIN & THE OSSUN PLAYBOYS’
Kevin Naquin’s powerhouse record put him in rarefi ed air at this year’s Cajun French Music Awards, winning six trophies. But for anyone who has ever watched an Oscar-winning movie and wondered what all the fuss was about (Birdman, for example), that might not mean too much. Is the record good or is it just hype and buzz because of some gimmick?
It wasn’t some gimmick that put his name on the ballot. Naquin and company still dish out the same contemporary Cajun sounds — crowd moving music pumping out of the big stage at a festival — for which they are known, albeit with a few surprises.
Naquin’s record, while defi nitely a Cajun dancehall production, has lots of Cajun swing leanings, with steel guitar and fi ddle emphasis throughout. It’s less rock- and drum-driven as some of his other records, but will not be confused with archival sounds. Along with thumping Cajun semi-rock, Naquin jumps into swamp pop, or perhaps pulls swamp pop into Cajun, by covering “Judy in Disguise” with a fi ddle and accordion leading the way. “My House of Memories” is more in line with its swamp pop origin, while “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer” starts with an accordion riff a la Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” before jumping into a rocking redux.
With requisite numbers like “Allons A Lafayette,” Naquin throws out “Do You Know What I Mean?” a blue eyed R&B-meets-accordion number straight from a small town street dance. Crossing genre boundaries, Naquin covers “No Salt in the Beans,” zydeco’s title cut. Summoning the past and present, he does it with Cajun sounds plus fi ddle backing. As for tradition, “Fee Fee Pancho/ Mamou Two Step,” despite its silly Cajun Smurf intro, pulls out a triangle.
Lively numbers abound as this is a Saturday night record. But there is a serious side for Francophiles. The title track refers to there being no guarantees in life, a song he wrote with his father after the latter received a cancer diagnosis. It hit home again after the band’s bass player, Seth Guidry, died before the record could be released.
Unlike an award winner that doesn’t deserve it, No Guarantee is a collection of dancehall fl oor fi llers that has earned its accolades.