This much-beloved Uptown funk outfit is a longtime college favorite -- possibly because its funk tends to soar and shimmer rather than throb, better for spinning and grooving than bumping and grinding. But what the band does it does extremely well. Over the years, it's had plenty of top soul survivors with New Orleans street cred to spare sit in (all of the original Meters, the Rebirth, and the James Brown horns) as well as top second- and third-generation inheritors and extrapolators, including Stanton Moore, Phish's Mike Gordon, Warren Haynes and Anders Osborne. Named after a genuine elder statesman of Oak Street (or rather, one of his accessories), the band's regular Uptown stomping ground, the album Mr Patterson's Hat is full of plenty of what fans come back for, graced with a more cohesive sound than previous releases. "The Ballad Of Tootie Montana" brings in Indian rhythm on a call to stop the violence and strife that twists through New Orleans grassroots culture. The 5-minute "Rite Rite," featuring Jason Mingledorff's soaring sax, is a smooth groove that's straight from the old school. The CD-release party is at Tipitinas on Friday, March 23 at 10 p.m. Schatzy opens.
Bass and sousaphone player Matt Perrine has the kind of resume that's both traditional and weirdly postmodern -- but then again, he lives in New Orleans in the 21st century, which is itself both of those things in spades. He's played traditional jazz, most recently in a show of original compositions with Tom McDermott at the CAC. He's also deconstructed the New Orleans sound with bands like the brass/rock/funk/jazz hybrid Bonerama, Stanton Moore and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. Anyone who calls a local release a "love song to the rich musical history of New Orleans" should be summarily suffocated under a double-decker parade float full of used Mardi Gras beads, however, Sunflower City is, truly, an ... amorous paean to the dense audible traditions of the Crescent City. Perrine's made some useful and talented friends in New Orleans, and the cast of characters on Sunflower City is both all-star and worthy from Hot Club clarinetist Craig Kohl to Bonerama trombonist Craig Klein, Rick Trolsen, Don Vappie, the Pfister Sisters and many, many others. The light, vaudeville-style ditty "I May Be Wrong" charms like a croquet game on the lawn. The Papa Celestin-influenced "New Orleans Blues Pt. 1" slinks and shuffles like the shadiest of characters with unapologetically sexy and menacing trumpet. And guest spots from Big Chief Alfred Doucet and James Andrews on the title track make it a bona fide second-line stomper. Stylistically, Sunflower City is all over the place, from Treme to Uptown to Frenchmen Street but in the best possible way.
The first (and biggest) hurdle to leap in processing Thibodaux rapper Mista Alien's debut full-length, Area 504, is that the only thing intergalactic about him is his name and album title. That's not a dig at his skills, although they're also ultimately earthbound. It's just that with his handle, the title and the album art (the classic big-eyed "grey," wearing headphones, and shots of Alien and his producer Adrian Mintz watching the skies in white Tyvek jumpsuits), one has reason to expect something a little more, well, stellar. What we get instead is 16 tracks and two cleaned-up-for-radio mixes of straightforward, lackluster Southern-style hip-hop -- not New Orleans-style bounce, which might make it at least danceable -- with a couple of randomly planted sci-fi movie sound bites. Samples are few, and Mintz's original beats and melodies are mostly uninspired. Alien's lyrics are mostly a hodgepodge of overly enthusiastic Dirty South representing ("We keep it dirty in the South / this is how we roll") off the track "Cockdiesel" is pretty typical. That particular excerpt is only notable because it seems to be, vocally, an homage to Li'l Flip's "The Way We Ball." Overall, Area 504 sounds like the project of two serious and well-educated fans of Southern rap showing what they've learned. They did the homework, but the next assignment will hopefully bear more original fruit.