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Homegrown Quartet 

As a steady stream of homegrown music continues to flow in New Orleans, here's a rundown of four recent independently released CDs:

Liese's Living Room -- Enough Already
On the opening song "Busy," lyrics like "Knew you were part of the freak show/ with all those tattoos/ Your pierced tongue/ and freak boots" make singer/songwriter Liese Dettmer's new five-song EP sound like the latest entry in the slacker/smart-ass roots rock currently pouring out of Faubourg Marigny. Dettmer's lackadaisical talking-blues-ish delivery only adds to that vibe, but the rest of the CD contains some stylistically diverse material, notably the plaintive world-weary but ultimately optimistic pleas of "Circle Round," where Dettmer's yearning truisms and vocals sound like a low-key New Orleans version of U2's Bono. The EP's worth hearing, especially for the majestic and downright stunning guitar work of Mark Fowler, who spins out some pristine blues leads touched with country twang on "Busy," and lends some atmospheric explorations reminiscent of a cross between Pat Metheny and Jerry Garcia on "Krystine." Fowler also throws out some Caribbean-flavored melodies on "Circle Round," accented by the aching whine of Dave Easley's pedal-steel coloring. And on "Desensitized," Fowler's crystalline tone sounds like vintage Mark Knopfler.

Lips & the Trips -- Dance Babys Dance (Sound of New Orleans)
Vocalist and bassist Lips has been a fixture at Check Point Charlie and on the Bourbon Street scene since moving here from Houston in the mid-90s, and her debut album showcases her recent musical partnership with guitarist Johnny J. and drummer Jesse Hall. She shows she has extended vocal range on Dance Babys Dance, hitting smooth upper-register notes on Little Willie John's "I Need Your Love So Bad," and using a throaty growl on a barnburning version of Otis Blackwell's "Rip it Up." Her blues-mama roadhouse delivery also pairs well with Johnny J.'s craggy crooning for a duet on Dale Hawkins' "The Thing." The album's primarily a feel-good romp through the rockabilly and blues canon, and like Mark Fowler's work with Liese's Living Room, guitarist Johnny J. gets the MVP nod on this record. As usual, his playing is a model of tone and taste, providing a rock-solid foundation of Sun Records-gleaned licks and intuitively placed grace notes. Unfortunately, drummer Hall is completely buried in the mix, and incredibly distracting shadow vocals mar otherwise fine versions of "Funnel of Love," "Tongue Tied" and "Riot in Cell Block #9." (This week, Lips and the Trips play at 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Tricou House on Bourbon Street.)

Gary Brown -- MS Magic (Gabbro Records)
With its prerecorded drum tracks and fuzz-coated deep bass lines, the title track of saxophonist Gary Brown's new CD sounds like a lost Cameo album. "You Give Me a Rush (I Wanna Push This Thing)" affirms that Brown's got a jones for '70s-style funk, right down to James Brown-inflected grunts preceding the chorus. The opening bass and sax lines on "Can't Stop" are practically lifted straight from Stevie Wonder's "Boogie on Reggae Woman," while "Move That Thing" adds some wah-wah guitar lines. There's nothing too serious here, just a succession of dance-floor grooves that'll give patrons of Brown's shows at the Blues Club on Bourbon Street a nice souvenir. For a musician of Brown's caliber -- he's recorded with everyone from Wilson Pickett and Dr. John to Joe Cocker -- it's impossible not to wonder how much funkier Brown could sound with a simpatico full band -- especially a New Orleans rhythm section.

Ronnie Magri and his New Orleans Jazz Band -- Shim Sham Revue (Jubilee Music)
Sex from a different time period resonates throughout drummer Ronnie Magri's Shim Sham Revue, a soundtrack of sorts to the acclaimed burlesque revival show on the boards at the Shim Sham Club on Sunday nights. There's nothing to quibble about here: the production and performances are top-notch, capturing an all-star roster of local players (including clarinetist Evan Christopher, pianist Joe Krown, bassist James Singleton, trumpeter Duke Heitger, guitarist Jason Goodman, and saxophonists Jerry Jumonville and Brian Ogilvie) dusting off hits and hidden gems from jazz's golden era. Heitger gets in some particularly dirty plunger work on Duke Ellington's "Black & Tan Fantasy," and the saxophonists get their chance to bump 'n' grind on Big Jay McNeely's "Deacon Hop." The songs range from the '30s-era pop nugget "Blue Prelude" to Sam Butera's '50s-era "Easy Rockin'," but all the material is bound together with the feel of the glory days of Storyville. Sure, the material is all covers, but Magri and the band offer a reminder of how vital this music still is, and how it can be played with fresh enthusiasm and style.

click to enlarge Drummer Ronnie Magri's sexy Shim Sham Revue blows the dust off some gems from jazz's golden era.
  • Drummer Ronnie Magri's sexy Shim Sham Revue blows the dust off some gems from jazz's golden era.
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