Friday, June 5, 2009

“Stew Called New Orleans”

Although I don’t listen to a whole lot of recorded music, when I find an album of music that I really like, I can get pretty obsessed, & right now I’ve found one that’s so good enough I have to write about it.

I should say the album “found me,” thanks to good blog friend Citizen K. who posted about it here—an excellent review that’s defintiely worth checking out— & then was kind enough to supply me with a copy. It’s called A Stew Called New Orleans (Threadhead Records), & it features the truly amazing vocals of John Boutté, along with vocals & rhythm guitar work by Paul Sanchez, trumpet by Leroy Jones, some exceptional electric guitar work by Todd Duke & bass by Peter Harris.

The album moves from comic to heartwrenching (e.g., from the Dave Frishberg-esque humor of “Two-Five-One” to the incredibly moving “A Meaning or a Message”); the latter song is clearly a response to the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, but it speaks to the emotions we all experience after some upheaval, whether on a large scale or on a personal one. The songs also range from infectiously upbeat (example: “Be a Threadhead,” which should get anyone dancing) to beautiful ballads—for instance, a breathtaking cover of Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” with Boutté’s deeply felt vocal & Sanchez’ lovely guitar back-up. This version exposes the emotional depth & lyrical beauty of the song, & each time I listen to it I’m reminded of the great Susannah McCorkle’s cover of “Still Crazy After All These Years”; Boutté reminds me of McCorkle in more ways than simply being a jazz singer covering a Paul Simon tune. Both singers have an impressive range that comes to life thru their uncanny ability to fully inhabit a song’s emotions.

Stew Called New Orleans ought to remind us—if we need reminding on this score—that New Orleans’ place in the jazz scene is not merely historical. The music on this album showcases all that’s great about music from this most musically mythic of all American cities—jazz that’s vibrant & yet accessible—& accessible in all the best senses of the word & none of the worst. This is an album I highly recommend. In the meantime, check out this live performance of John Boutté singing “American Tune” with Paul Sanchez on guitar.

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  1. oh that was fabulous! I've just been moving all around the room and singing along... knowing nearly every word of course of that amazing song-poem. As much as I love Paul Simon, I think this gentleman really brings more of that song's beauty through. thanks John. I love how blogging brings us to these gems.

    I always feel like songwriters, like Simon, are the really fortunate poets, to have their poems sung. Isn't that how all poetry began?

  2. All right! I'm glad you like it so much! I'm listening to it right now, thanks to your review!

    The interplay throughout of the trumpet and the acoustic guitar is creative and evocative. Both Boutte and Sanchez put out terrific CDs last year of the kind that make for difficult following up. Stew is a template of how to do that.

    Rene, Premium T. definitely seconds your emotion re this version of "American Tune."

  3. The song made me cry ... beautiful. Thank you!

  4. Hi René, K & Reya:

    René: I'd say it's pretty hard to beat John Boutté's soulful voice on that number, but it's a flat-out beautiful song with incredible lyrics. Yes, music & poetry!

    K: You're right about the interplay. The ensemble has such a relaxed feel & intimate sound, which matches both Boutté's & Sanchez' voices-- Sanchez is a pretty darned good singer too, tho Boutté is fantastic. Thanks again.

    Reya: Yes, that's the effect of that song. It gives me goose bumps, it really does.

  5. I got this cd after Jazz Fest this year and it is wonderful. The story of its creation is uplifting in itself.
    It is amazing to me how "American Tune" fits so well to the emotional state of the city post-Katrina. (the weariness,abandonment, and the "keep on keeping on-ness) Paul Simon truly is a poet. The tune originally became an anthem for us when Allen Toussaint used it as an encore in the closing show of his tour with Elvis Costello for "A River In Reverse" in NOLA. There was not a dry eye in the house. Thank you for supporting New Orleans and her musicians by promoting this great cd.

  6. Hi DrJ2U:

    Thanks for that background about "American Tune" in NoLa music; I didn't know that. Thanks, too, for your support here!

  7. Sensitive and well-written post, as I have come to expect from RFB!

    I'd been meaning to listen to Bouttee's rendition of "American Tune" all week, and kept getting distracted by something else. So last night, around 11pm, with the windows all open, I played it 4 times at full volume. It was an emotional moment -- it brings me to my knees, every time.

    Thanks, John.


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