HELLLLO, Josephine. This newcomer knockout (and daughter of Rudy's Caribbean Funk bandleader Rudy Mills) is bound to turn some heads and perk some ears with her debut CD, one of the strongest contemporary R&B efforts to emerge out of New Orleans. This Is Love is stylish, filled with powerhouse vocal performances and memorable hooks and choruses, and worthy of mainstream recognition.
The beauty of Mills' CD is its break with the overused hallmarks of so much contemporary R&B: canned drum tracks and over-the-top vocals packing melisma into every line. The album was recorded with some of New Orleans' finest musicians, including keyboardist Willie Tee and saxophonist Brian "Breeze" Cayolle. Tracks such as "Dance With Me" still pulse with the slow-burn sexuality favored by the likes of Toni Braxton, but there's something thrilling about hearing Allen Poche's funky guitar lines, along with a few deftly placed keyboard blasts, that help propel Mills' urgent plea to boogie. Even more standard fare such as "I'm Gone," with its infidelity themes and wind chime-kissed soft-porn vibe, reaches new heights with an irresistible mantra-like chorus setting up Cayolle's call-and-response sax lines.
There's a clunker or two -- the title track especially drags -- but the hits far outweigh the misses, with "Lay Me Down" radiating serious heat and the eminently catchy refrain of "Gotta Do a Little More" evoking memories of the En Vogue smash "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It"). This Is Love makes a lasting impression on first listen and gets better each successive spin.
Josephine Mills performs at Cafe Brasil at 9 p.m. Thursday,
South to Louisiana
(New Range Records)
Because he's waited almost 25 years to release his first solo CD, veteran fiddler Jonno Frishberg is covering all his musical bases. As a sideman and collaborator with diverse south Louisiana artists including Michael Doucet, Wayne Toups, Mamou and a host of others, Jonno's fluent with Louisiana's rural and urban sounds. On South to Louisiana, an A-list roster of friends (including Doucet, Sonny Landreth and Doug Belote) pitch in for Jonno's debut.
The diverse stylistic scope and varying quality of the performances can be jarring. Bar band-esque opener "Good Woman Shuffle" is the album's weakest cut, with singer Bo Ledet's flat delivery and the cliched lyrics sounding like tepid cover-band material. Ditto for a cringe-inducing take on "Hot Tamale Baby," where Jonno's vocals are stiff and there's an overwrought background chorus. But Jonno cooks elsewhere on uptempo material, including a stutter-step version of "Jambalaya" featuring the brass of trombonist Craig Klein and trumpeter Kevin Clark, and Jonno's cover of Clifton Chenier's "I'm Comin' Home" flat-out burns, thanks to Belote's drumming and some tandem lead lines from Dwayne Dopsie's accordion and Jonno's fiddle. The swirling original "Neitzche's Waltz" is a moody departure and highlight, featuring an acrid and roiling guitar solo from Sam Broussard.
Jonno shines brightest on the traditional material; he makes his fiddle sing like a glorious bluebird on the upbeat melody lines of "Perrodin Two Step" (duetting with Steve Riley's accordion), and hews some rustic-timbre sawing on "Triangle Blues" before sending off the program on a high note with an elegant solo violin version of "The Lovers' Waltz."
Jonno plays a CD-release party for South to Louisiana on Thursday, May 29 at the Maple Leaf.
John Boutte & Uptown Okra
Carry Me Home
It's an unlikely partnership: a country-flavored string and bluegrass band fronted by a jazz and gospel singer. But the union of New Orleans acoustic torchbearers Uptown Okra with soul serenader John Boutte is a winning musical marriage -- opposites attracting and building a bond built on intuition and communication.
Both entities have superb musical tastes, evident in the diverse covers they've chosen for Carry Me Home, their first full-length album together. How's this for American music: Huey Piano Smith's "Coo Coo Over You," Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and Danny Barker's "I'm a Cowboy," to name a few. "No Hiding Place" and "Freeborn Man" are spirited hoedowns, with guitarist Brian Siegel and mandolinist Nick Backer picking out clean lines and Sam Price's standup bass providing a warm bottom end throughout the album. Boutte's always amazing multi-octave vocals -- with his trademark slight rasp -- provide just the right amount of grit to the material.
Carry Me Home's defining performances are a heartfelt reading of Earl King's "Let's Make a Better World," and a stirring gospel melody of "Amazing Grace," "Get in Line, Brother," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "I Saw the Light" that closes the album. This is feel-good, uplifting music played expertly and honestly, without pretense. Hallelujah.