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CD Reviews Mem Shannon

Live: A Night at Tipitina's

Last Load Records

"His guitar playing is the definition of tasteful," says Gary Hirstius, opening up the live show at Tipitina's last Mardi Gras week when Mem Shannon recorded this album. True, New Orleans' most famous former cabbie can play with restraint, but where's the fun in that? Shannon's dexterity and long solos are the meat of his brand of funky, electric blues. His fans, however, are barely in evidence on this squeaky-clean-sounding live recording. Except for a couple of well-mixed-in hoots at the beginning, Live: A Night at Tipitina's sounds like a studio record. It's a collection of long, long jams, some of which come off fabulously and some of which could have been abbreviated. An 11-minute take on the Neville Brothers' "Voodoo" erases the sinister spookiness of its 1989 version in exchange for a fresh, jazzy series of solos from his all-star band (Joe Cabral, Tim Green and Jason Mingledorff on sax; Angelo Nocentelli on bass, Josh Milligan on drums and others) that comes together more engagingly than the effect of obligatory solo-trading during shows. Seven minutes each on tracks like "Smell Something" and "Who Are They," though, take semi-lame lyrical jokes a little too far. Like any live show, though, the album heats up and gets loose midway through. The flashpoint on Live is "No Religion," a blistering blues jam soon followed by the R&B Katrina tearjerker "All I Have." On "All I Have," Tim Green plays the Conn-O-Sax -- an all-metal, F-keyed saxophone with a high, reedy sound. The instrument looks like a musclebound oboe, and was only made in the late '20s and early '30s -- it's rare to hear a recording of one, and it adds a plaintive, angelic note to the song. The shy, subdued track "Forget About Me," dutifully running through several archetypal blues narratives, has the most old-school style soul of any track on the record -- it splits showtime between Mem's guitar and the more-than-able horns -- and is a pure and classic R&B weeper. All in all, the recording's so clean we can't really tell if it was a fun night or not, but judging from the music, it must have been. --ÊAlison Fensterstock


Late Lunch

Mazurka Music

The debut record by the trio 3Manisha contains a great set (19 songs) of acoustic string and accordion music. The music is mainly French street music but with echoes of other European styles. From the beginning, it is striking how violinist Matt Rhody, bassist John Lutz and accordionist Richard Scott play together. Many bands play music like this with a wavering tone, but on this recording, the notes are true, which adds to the harmonies between the instruments and makes the recording sound more authoritative. The songs, mostly originals, combine a classical feel with a more relaxed folk attitude. Songs such as "Potted Hibiscus" have the jaunty, ragtime rhythm of an undiscovered Scott Joplin work. Other songs have aspects of Scottish folk tunes or, on a tune such as "Camille's Wedding," which features Beth Patterson on double duty with bouzouki and bass, start with an American Western sound and then move into a more English lilt with long, rhythmic melodies that wind ever higher before moving back down the scale. The band takes other tunes and augments them with almost mariachi horns or Caribbean patterns. The recording itself gives the music some air and space which lets the notes reverberate as if they were being played outside in a narrow cobblestone alley. Late Lunch reflects a growing sensibility with many New Orleans "traditional" musicians that there is still much to be explored in both the music of Europe and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean as it meets in the Crescent City. -- David Kunian

The Schatzy Band

Nocturnal Wild Life Journal

Hot Spazz Records

A songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with a dozen years residency in the Crescent City, Greg Schatz's casual, offbeat ruminations and spirit of debauched bonhomie place him in the company of fellow local bohemians Alex McMurray, Morning 40 Federation and Egg Yolk Jubilee. Schatzy's first two records had some clever bits: the sulphureously sly "Some Other Time" and "Give it a Rest," to name two. Schatzy has a gift for the unexpected rhyme, and even the songs that don't amount to much have some surprising turns-of-phrase. Unlike the first two discs, however, Nocturnal Wild Life Journal has more hits than misses, and must rank with the more entertaining 2007 albums by a New Orleans singer/songwriter. It mixes odes of Seinfeldian ordinariness ("Your Mama," "This is the Show") with the bizarre ("Too Many People are Living in My Head") and the satisfyingly sophomoric ("Head Out"). Sometimes you wish Schatz would tighten things up a bit, but then another out-of-left-field rhyme hits your ears and the thought passes. All in all, Schatzy's music is not a purposeful march, it's a loose-limbed ramble. --ÊTom McDermott

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