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Spinning a trio of new New Orleans CDs

Snooks Eaglin
The Way It Is
(Money Pit Records)

"That was a good groove there, boys," Snooks Eaglin tells Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen at the end of "Can You Hear Me?," the leadoff track of Eaglin's first studio album in five years. That's an understatement; from Eaglin's irrepressible call-and-response vocal to drummer Jeffrey "Jellybean" Alexander's buoyant ride cymbal, "Can You Hear Me?" announces that Eaglin is still a New Orleans funkmaster and going strong at 66.

In many ways, The Way It Is is more representative of Eaglin's live shows than his 1997 live CD, Live in Japan. There's the meditative instrumental ("Trees"), a few R&B classics ("I Done Got Over It," "The Chokin' Kind"), the off-the-wall opportunity for Snooks to do his female impersonator routine ("I Don't Speak Espanol"), a Latin-tinged workout ("Cubano Mambo"), and the gospel-tinged soul anthem "Looking Back," which evokes memories of the late Johnny Adams' version. Eaglin's unique guitar technique, that combination of percussive finger-strumming mixed with rhythmic leads and spidery solo flights, really shines on a driving version of Charles Brown's "Boogie Rambler," where Tony Dagradi's swinging sax lines are a perfect foil for Eaglin's elastic string bends.

The CD concludes with Eaglin's improvised vamp on "I've Been Around the World," a spoken-word travelogue of Eaglin's amazing career, from his early days in the Flamingoes with Allen Toussaint, to his collaborations with Willie Tee and the Hawkettes. It's not boasting, it's the gospel truth, and a timely reminder that Eaglin is a bona fide legend, and The Way It Is is essential listening for fans of New Orleans rhythm and blues. -- Jordan

Lynn Drury & Bad Mayo
Blackberry Winter/ 01

Bad Mayo songs are easy to listen to, and Blackberry Winter/ 01 is a good sampling of the band's quirky mix of roots and folk styles. Produced by Ninth Ward folk guru Mike West, the album features Lynn Drury leading the ensemble with vocals that waver between forceful and lackluster. The mellow whistle of a Hammond B-3 organ joins in for choruses and solos, and bass fiddle adds a syrupy texture to the low end.

Guitarist/vocalist Drury and bassist Dave Stover make an alternately humorous and sentimental songwriting team. While Drury's tunes tend to be slower and ballad-like, Stover's are faster and more manic. Drury's lazy rhythms guide the listener through simple melodies and basic chord changes, a fitting medium for countrified accounts of everyday sentiments. She refers to outdoorsy objects like pickup trucks and mountains in her folky mix, fleshing out personal problems with down-to-earth lyrics. In "It's a Wonder," she's so lonely the moon isn't even happy to see her. "Whoa!" denounces jealous feelings with its slowly strummed acoustic guitar accompaniment, and on "Crosses," she dreams of the "sleep that only dreamers keep." Stover's songs take on more adventurous forms. "Familiar Melody" is a perky waltz about struggling to write poetry. Rockabilly raises its head on "Try Me On," and the band cranks out the two-minute number without a second wasted.

With slight stylistic wavering and subtle shifts in allegory, this collection of Bad Mayo songs is good for a casual listen, but don't expect it to transcend run-of-the-mill folk-pop cliches. -- Diettinger

Have Soul Will Travel
Live at the Funky Butt

The cover choices on Have Soul Will Travel's new live CD -- including Jimmy McGriff's "The Worm," Lonnie Smith's "Play it Back," and Roy Brooks' "The Free Slave" -- point to the band's sonic debt to Blue Note Records' eminently funky late-60s groove albums. Using a front line of guitarist Bert Cotton, trumpeter Eric Lucero and saxophonist Brent Rose, and a rhythm section of drummer Kevin O'Day and bassist Tommy Sciple, the band uses that blueprint and draws up some new designs of its own, and the result is an electrifying set from one of the most criminally underrecognized bands in New Orleans.

With all due respect to the horn and rhythm sections, which play with quartz timing and a notable sense of adventure in their solos, Cotton's guitar playing is so dazzling that it merits special attention. Using an arsenal of gorgeous tones, precision comping, and judicious doses of wah-wah pedal, Cotton's deep bag of knowledge and soul-filled technique opens up like the late guitar genius Danny Gatton's work with pedal steel player Buddy Emmons or Hammond B-3 keyboardist Joey DeFrancesco. Cotton's also studied the Grant Green songbook, laying down a serpentine web of passages in his original compositions "The Pickle" and "U Say" that drip with feeling.

Other highlights include a stutter-step take on James Brown's "Ain't it Funky Now" that firmly answers the song's rhetorical question, with Lucero and Rose's dual brass lines and O'Day's skittering snare work weaving a deliciously off-kilter groove. The whole CD is complemented by great production values, retro artwork, and superb liner notes by James Lien -- making this an early favorite for one of 2002's top 10 New Orleans albums. -- Jordan


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