the tom Paines
Rites of Man
Alex McMurray and Jonathan Freilich together form a Rosetta Stone of modern New Orleans music. This is due not just to the depth of their quality collaborations — Royal Fingerbowl, Tin Men, 007, Valparaiso Men's Chorus, Mirlitones and Jackals, to name a few — but also their incredible breadth, which touches on sun-baked, rock steady, Dramamine-begging sea shanties, big-band jazz and skewed, brass-taxed pop. On this debut release as folk-standard cover act the Tom Paines, the versatile musicians are freed from their respective proclivities for stranger-than-fiction Bywater stories and mind-bending musical arrangements, leaving only crisply recorded harmonizing guitars and the singers' well-acquainted tenors. The 13 tracks function as an appendix of the duo's weekly Tuesday gig at the Circle Bar, with McMurray and Freilich applying their careful plucking and gentle, country-pitched vocals to favorites by Jimmie Rodgers ("Waiting For a Train"), Martin Simpson ("Golden Vanity") and Stephen C. Foster ("Hard Times"). These are threadbare songs to be sure, often more familiar as interpretations than in their original versions, but they all benefit in some way from the Tom Paines' affectionate treatment. In the band's hands, Elizabeth Cotton's wafting "Shake Sugaree" gains somber gravity by moving a step slower, and Mississippi John Hurt's cool, frail blues piece "My Creole Belle" flashes newfound strength and warmth. For all his Tom Waits comparisons, McMurray, who anchors most melodies, has always sounded more like Randy Newman if, instead of scoring Pixar films, he retired as an eavesdropping pickpocket in the French Quarter. Here, singing the traditional "The Wagoner's Lad" (made famous by Joan Baez on 1961's Vol. 2) over a low-rumbling thunderstorm accompaniment by Freilich, he's a hopeful Richard Buckner, and the one dispensing the goods.
MATT PERRINE & SUNFLOWER CITY
Bayou Road Suite
Matt Perrine does things with the sousaphone that don't seem possible. This truism will probably go on his tombstone. Perrine's second-liners could instead just play a few segments from Bayou Road Suite, his second impressive, expansive jazz platter as Sunflower City. They might choose the stretch in the middle of Parisian stroll "Le Richelieu" where Ben Schenck's clarinet and Debbie Davis' ukulele drop to the background, and Perrine's tuba steps out front to sing a high-register, trombone-like solo. Or the ridiculous majority of "Roadhouse Stomp," which he hijacks with muffled scats that sound like they were blown while doing somersaults down a hill. If all this album offered was Perrine showing off his circular breathing skills, it would still be worth the purchase. But as on the band's 2007 debut, the players here could comfortably fill every stage on Frenchmen Street. Cameos include banjoist Alex McMurray, trombonist Rick Trolsen, percussionist Seguenon Kone, pianist David Torkanowsky, clarinetist Evan Christopher, and on and on; it may take less space to list whom Perrine didn't employ. The resulting LP is a monstrous collection whose wide swath through the various building blocks of jazz — from trad to free, choro to calypso, laid-back lounge to hot hard bop — is carved by the vast chorus of voices that made it. "Voices" being the operative word: Though only two songs feature vocals (highlighted by St. Louis Slim's cha-cha-ing "My Goat"), the instruments render them unmissed. Schenck's clarinet gets doped up on the title track before letting loose, screaming, on "In the Weeds"; Matt Rhody's fiddle gets a squealing head start on "Le Richelieu," obviously itching to get in on Perrine's fun. Then there is the bandleader himself, who announces the Dixieland Andy Griffith, Mayberry-on-the-Mississippi opener "Sougouya" with a few jaunty huffs and puffs, and closer "Thursday Morning Revival" with heavy second-line yawns and heaves. You might call it self-eulogy, but Perrine's Sunflower City is just getting started.