Who: Robin Barnes
What: Bluesy, soulful modern jazz with a voice that can whisper as easily as it can scream
Robin Barnes knows delighting the ear is sometimes just important as surprising it. That's why, on her EP Me, which the self-proclaimed "New Orleans songbird" released in 2013, it's easy to be coaxed into a gentle melody with a fluttering voice before Barnes unleashes something else entirely — a growling, from-the-core bellow that's as jarring as it is sweet. Form always follows function, especially in the track "Rescue Me," so an affectionate line ("It's you I've been fighting for") is masked with girlish precision, but a verse about power and independence is belted ("My mother told me you gotta give it your all").
Barnes comes from a family of New Orleans musicians. She's related to R&B legend Dave Bartholomew, and her family's jazz band, The Soul Heirs, introduced a young Barnes to all kinds of interpretations of traditional and modern jazz. "Coming from a family of musicians, they really wanted to push me toward the traditional career path of a 9-to-5 job, with gigging on the side," she says. "I tried it, but my heart wanted music full time." That decision has paid off. With weekly gigs at the Hotel Monteleone and the Windsor Court, Barnes has been able to sustain a career, and she recently starred in her first musical, Nine Lives: A Musical Witness of New Orleans, with Paul Sanchez, Michael Cerveris and Bryan Batt. She plans to release a full-length album blending modern and classical jazz with pop. She also speaks to New Orleans school students. "And the best part is that I can proudly say to them, 'Dreams do come true,'" she says. "Through hard work, education and loving what you do. I am living my dream." — JEANIE RIESS
Who: Cardinal Sons
What: Three Mississippi brothers on a Wilco-inspired power-pop bender
John, Joe and Dave — the brothers Shirley — grew up around the inescapable blues cover bands of Jackson, Mississippi, what John describes as a "kind of bland, cultureless place." The Loyola University grads dug into the New Orleans indie rock scene — Joe and Daniel formed the jazz-rock outfit Easy Company, and eldest brother John poached his younger brothers from the band once it ran its course. "I never really went for it," he says. "When I saw that band break up I was like, 'I need to do something.'" With Cardinal Sons, John pens bright, three-part-harmony power pop, which earned them a chance to record with veteran producer Charlie Sexton.
On the resulting The Echo Choir EP, the band carves out Spoon-like grooves on "Casanova" and "Blood" and opens up confident, piano-driven rock on tracks like the addictive single "Day of Summer." While Shirley is grateful for the studio-polished gift that seemingly fell into the band's lap, "I don't want to play acoustic guitar anymore on record," he says, laughing. "I want to rock out a lot more on record." Cardinal Sons' full-length album will be the band's first brush with album concepts, looking to Arcade Fire and Beck — artists who've moved nimbly from concept album to concept album. "Otherwise we don't really have anything you can sink your teeth into," Shirley says. "We're just three white dudes playing rock 'n' roll." — ALEX WOODWARD
What: Heirs apparent to Quintron's blown-out garage rock
New Orleans trio Babes — guitarist Ian Adams, drummer Sam Yoger, and keyboardist and vocalist Rhodes Murphy — formed in 2011 as a swamp-nightmare rock 'n' roll outfit seemingly birthed from a bathroom floor. Babes' 2013 debut — all sloppy pop hooks and exploding instruments — also marked the first-ever release for Pizza Burglar Records, now also home to Quintron (whose next release is
Spellcaster II, due out Oct. 28) and San Francisco facemelters CCR Headcleaner. Two-minute bluesbreakers like "Children of God" (try not to singalong to "hell yeah" 1,000 times) and "Coffin Nail" singlehandedly challenge the brewing West Coast garage revival for the golden pizza. — ALEX WOODWARD
Who: The Honorable South
What: Electric- and soul-driven rock
When Charm Taylor first experimented with putting a band together in 2007 at Covington's Green Room, she used different group names for the shows, including You Do It.
"I just couldn't contain all the energy that builds in me when I start to tell a story," Taylor says. "I would have tambourine and bass and my voice and this little body and try to figure out how to do it all at once, and then I'd say, 'If you think this is easy, you do it.'"
Taylor is now the energetic force at the front of The Honorable South — but she leaves the bass-playing to Charles Lumar II. Raised on soul and rock music, Taylor sings soulfully and lapses into more fast-paced hip-hop flow over jangling guitars, 808 drumbeats and production by rap producer and guitarist Danny Kartel. April release Faithful, Brave & Honest features slain New Orleans rapper Soulja Slim.
Taylor grew up in St. Louis listening to Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone and Ike and Tina Turner. A commitment to social justice brought her to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and she's transformed from a socially conscious poet and activist (and teacher) to singer/songwriter. In 2008, she met guitarist Matthew Rosenbeck at a spoken word event, and the two formed the basis of Honorable South. Rosenbeck is a guitarist with interests in rock and metal, and he moved to New Orleans from Connecticut 13 years ago.
Taylor and Rosenbeck enlisted drummer Jamal Batiste (who appears in the James Brown biopic Get On Up) to play on an EP (Dirty in the Light) in 2009. The band grew to include Lumar and Kartel on the 2012 release I Love My Tribe. In April, the band performed at its first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival as it released Faithful, Brave & Honest. The recent album shows the band coalescing as a group and more comfortably blending electronic, soul, rock and folk sounds.
"We didn't strip it down," Taylor says. "We wanted a more succinct end result. But we didn't want to take out the 808, or the deep trap, or the high intensity electric chords. We didn't want to take the distortion out. We wanted to balance all of those worlds." — WILL COVIELLO
Who: Julie Odell
What: Forest-dwelling folk singer-songwriter
For her retreat into the South Carolina foothills, 25-year-old Ruston native Julie Odell brought a four-track cassette recorder, microphones, a battery-powered guitar amplifier, her Japanese-made knockoff Rickenbacker guitar, and the songs she's written over the last four years — all to record her entirely outdoor album. "I've played before with capturing droplets of rain, picking out the highs and lows," she says. "Nature is where I'm most inspired, I figured it'd be best to be outside with the crickets. I don't do well in a box in a studio."
Cathedral-like caves amplify Odell — whose gorgeous, miles-away, heavenly lilts float above her band Pretty Wild Yellow and now-defunct outfit Giant Cloud — and she plans to fill her forest studio with droning sounds from creeks and ambient insects. While New Orleans "is always where I land," she says, her hometown has a certain allure. "There's a lot of porches and a lot of country kids with nothing better to do than hang out and play songs," she says. "Either that or get in trouble somehow." — ALEX WOODWARD
What: Hardcore punk's mutant saviors
For its debut album Go to Prison, melodic hardcore punk quartet PEARS (like the fruit, all-caps) bridges hi-fi guitar barrages with full-body vocal assaults, from infinite-range vocalist Zach Quinn. The band — Quinn, guitarist Brian Pretus, bassist Alex Talbot and drummer Tim Harman — is on a month-long U.S. tour and granted Gambit a brief interview.:
What was the mission in mind with PEARS?
"i mean, we definitely have never been this efficient, so that was very important to us. But..... Mission? There is no mission. Asketh why enough times and besides sounding like a bleating child, you will arrive at the inevitable final stop in this dimension: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu." (Ed. note: Pamyu is a Japanese singer who figures largely in the "kawaii" scene.)
What's the current state of punk in New Orleans?
"poopoo caca doodoo. it smells bad and it sounds worse"
Any plans for recording more music after you guys get back from tour?
"Yeah, I'm hoping to record in December. If not then, then in March for sure. Just, ya know, whenever we get a chance. We've got a bunch of follow-up material written and we're excited to grow." — ALEX WOODWARD
Who: Maggie Koerner
What: Soaring vocalist and songwriter bursting from the bayou
Maggie Koerner just returned from what she calls "boot camp," a six-week tour as the singer-for-hire with Galactic. "The 'secret' lead singer," she says. Rave reviews for the tour highlight Koerner's vocal performance, blowing away crowds and reviewers left asking who the hell exactly was that stealing the show.
"But they're also like, 'Who the f— was that?' Maggie Koerner. 'Who the f— is she?' I almost want to comment, 'Google her!'" she says, laughing. "There's a website, you can buy her album!"
The 27-year-old Shreveport native is an impressive singer-songwriter in her own right — it was her composition with the Revivalists' David Shaw, "Hey Na Na" (the single on Galactic's acclaimed 2012 album Carnivale Electricos), that earned her the gig. Her 2013 album Neutral Ground, recorded mostly live at Bogalusa's A Studio in the Country, is a howling folk- and blues-inspired account of her move from her hometown to a sometimes dangerous, solitary life in New Orleans, where she posted up above a window overlooking her Marigny block, smoked, drank and wrote "haunting, nostalgic, magical feelings from that transition," she says.
"People who find themselves in New Orleans are a certain breed of dog," she says. "I was in a dark place, but a beautiful dark place. ... I spent a year walking that line."
Koerner moved to New Orleans after connecting with artists like Shaw, Kristin Diable and Andrew Duhon. Her band — featuring Chris Lippincott, Devin Kerrigan, Jesse Smith and Joe and David Shirley — fleshed out Neutral Ground’s compositions, powered by Koerner’s gospel choir-sized voice, a force of nature she reigns in and rides as it whips thundering highs and lows. “My bones had to be in New Orleans,” she says.
Following a fall tour, Koerner plans to devote time to studio-focused songs co-written with artists whose work she admires, including songwriter and producer Jim McCormick and Texas songwriter Shakey Graves.
“Put my hand in as many baskets as possible,” she says. “It’s such an idiotic thing that I’m going to make these better songs by myself. But I want to come at it from a studio standpoint, not as a bleeding heart drunk.” — ALEX WOODWARD
Who: Little Maker
What: Wistful, earnest folk-pop with orchestral flourish
Singer/songwriter Micah McKee (Silent Cinema, Empress Hotel) has been a fixture in the New Orleans music scene for more than a decade, releasing six or seven albums (he's forgotten the exact number) — but it wasn't until he formed Little Maker in 2011 that he came into his own. "I don't think I've done anything great up until now," McKee says. He credits Little Maker's classically trained musicians with sharing and realizing his vision: Rebecca Crenshaw's ethereal violin; Mark LaMaire's upright bass (often bowed); Pat Fee's thoughtful take on rock percussion; Greg Beamen's and Luke Hudleston's soaring horns. "It took me many years to grow into what I was looking for," says McKee, who played the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with Little Maker in 2014. "It turned out all I was looking for was being in a really pretty rock 'n' roll band." Catch Little Maker at 7 p.m. Thursdays at Blue Nile and at Le Bon Temps Oct. 4. — MISSY WILKINSON
Who: Natural Blonde
What: Kaleidoscopic noise-pop from longtime Baton Rouge brethren
For its first full-length album, songwriters Jordan Odom and Winston Willingham are looking forward to the brutal, Sisyphean recording sessions: "Recording is just as important as the live show or the creation of the song," Willingham says. "To sit and sit and sit and listen back and play, then get totally burned out on it, then come back to it." Odom and Willingham along with Jesse Kees and Matt Cronin — four friends from Baton Rouge who regrouped in New Orleans — are Natural Blonde, whose echo-soaked post-punk self-titled debut cassette appeared in 2013.
The descending keyboard hook on opener "Distant Sound" rewinds a psych-pop nightmare, while the band's two-track 2014 EP throbs with dreamy krautrock, and its washed out guitars and shuffled drums layer blown-out shoegaze and layers of colorful textures. For its next act: "More movement, maybe dance a little bit more, maybe cry a little bit more," Odom says. Willingham adds, "A lot of big effects pedal boards, a lot of harmonizers, delays, all sorts of fun noises. I'm inspired by noise, I'm inspired by pop. When I'm writing, whatever I'm feeling comes out, this band is a format where anything goes, anything can fit into it. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves." — ALEX WOODWARD