Nigel Hall's record collection is reaching "Library of Congress" size. He's filled a few Ikea shelving units, though they're not quite floor-to-ceiling. "But it's 'bout to be," he says. "It's very deep. It's not something I can explain. It's next level."
"I'm very picky about what I listen to," Hall says. "I don't listen to anything past 1984. Everything else is just poo poo."
Except him, of course. "I sound like I was in 1982," he says.
Hall's latest album is November's Ladies & Gentlemen... Nigel Hall (Feel Music/Round Hill), on which the singer and keyboardist-turned-bandleader thumbs through a nostalgic stack of his favorites, from Roy Ayers to Ann Peebles, along with soul-steeped originals, like the Motown swells of lead single and album opener "Gimme a Sign." Hall recorded more than 30 songs — trimmed down to 10 for the album's final cut — a mix of retro soul, horn-peppered funk and a glimpse into the records that played a role in his childhood.
"I just want to make people happy," Hall says. "I want to take people to the places where I was when I was making the music."
Ivan Neville and drummer (and fellow crate digger) Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson of The Roots guest on Hall's rich, layered take on the Isley Brothers' "Lay Away."
"Drummers really listen to him — he knows how to play the drums, exactly what you need," Hall says. "He listens. He knows what the song is and what needs to be there."
Hall performs an album release party Dec. 2 at Tipitina's, "a big soul extravaganza" (with his live band, drummer Jamison Ross, bassist Eric Vogel, guitarist Derwin "Big D" Perkins, vocalists Vegas Cola and Robin Barnes and trumpeter Eric Bloom) and "the dopest show in New Orleans — at least that night," he says.
Hall — a Washington D.C. native who moved from New York to New Orleans in 2013 — is a longtime sideman who has played with Jon Cleary and Warren Haynes, among others, and with the funk collective Lettuce. Hall was 4 years old when he first banged on the keys at his grandmother's house ("I've been chasing that feeling ever since," he says). His dad raised him on jazz fusion and progressive artists including Stanley Clarke, George Duke and Return to Forever, and Hall's soul and R&B trip kicked in as a teenager, taking vocal cues from Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
Hall also grew up listening to The Meters and Allen Toussaint — he sang with Cleary and Boz Scaggs at Toussaint's funeral and tribute at the Orpheum Theatre on Nov. 20, performing a stripped-down, beautifully harmonized "What Do You Want The Girl To Do."
Moving from New York to New Orleans, Hall says, was "the greatest move I made in my life."
"The greatest musical experiences I ever had were here in New Orleans," Hall says.
"'Why don't I just f—ng move there? You're tired of New York, you're spending all your money on nothing.' ... I didn't feel as though I was growing in New York anymore. There's a lot of closed-mindedness. I wanted to be somewhere more open-minded, where people were freer to do certain things. The first place I thought of was New Orleans."