Feelin’ the Vibe (June 22nd, 2018, Columbia, MO)

For the past week, Sarayah’s Feel the Vibe has been throbbing in the lab (aka my ’93 Ford Ranger’s cab). Nicole spotted the album in Louisiana Music Factory, NOLA’s stellar Frenchman Street store, checked it out at the listening station, and placed it on my already-towering stack. The young lady is a product of the Crescent City, with Caribbean roots that blend beautifully with that status, and while she doesn’t quite live up to Basin Street Records’ promotional claim that she weds Rihanna, Ariana Grande, and Kehlani (each of whom are backed by big bucks and state of the art writers and producers), I prefer her to all of the above except Ri, and even then I prefer her half the time. Why? I am no aficionado of club music or modern r&b, but I sense in the tracks and lyrics of Feel the Vibe that they might be a shade generic or corny. However, there is a sweetness and innocence to her commitment to the material, to her belief in herself, to the humility of her offering that’s irresistible. Trappings are few: her island-tinged delivery and exotic presentation on the album cover are about it. Otherwise, she’s naked, especially so without the bells and whistles of a zeitgeistian roll call of beat-finders and knob-twiddlers, and as a result I feel I’m getting a direct and sincere shot from the kid. I don’t club much at 56 in mid-Missouri, but I can easily picture Nicole and I getting the backs of our shirts wet to tracks like “Blaze It Up” and “Start to Finish”–and she can nail a slow one, too, as she proves on “Fire and Ice.” Late in the album, she takes New Orleans music back to its roots on “We Party,” perhaps the track that most suggests her potential. SarĂ yah: give her a shot. I hope we get to see her live one day.

Short-shrift Division:

A morning spent with the greatest country-soul singer of them all is a morning fully redeemed.

Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 27

Today our daytime adventure was taking the trolley to Canal and walking all the way to the Bywater neighborhood. Not much music was involved, but we were jump-started out of the hotel room by YouTube videos of James Brown’s Japanese miso commercials. I am not making this up.

On the way back from Bywater (by the way, I HIGHLY recommend Elizabeth’s on Chartres), we stopped in The Marigny and, of course, one more trip to Louisiana Music Factory. The owner must think I am insane–why not get everything in one trip?–but I have to let ideas marinate, plus it takes considerable mental discipline to liberate myself from penny-pinching web purchases and do the right thing: support brick and mortar record stores, especially in NOLA. Also, should the reader assume I am independently wealthy, I have no other spending habits. I’d be wearing a burlap sack if I could get away with it, and if it would add money to my music budget. Yes, I know about streaming and don’t care. Here’s the sum of my booty:

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In the evening, finally able to listen to Bo Dollis, Jr.’s new Mardi Gras Indian rekkid A NEW KIND OF FUNK (it jes grew outta the OLDEST), we drove out to the greatest music venue in America: The Rock ‘N’ Bowl on Carrollton. OK, that ain’t an exaggeration:

The music is always great–this night, new breed zydeco star Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie, so open and fun and rocking and sweet he had what I assume was a young mentally disabled relative playing washboard and singing along on stage all night.

The crowd? PACKED…with everyone from kids to octogenarians, every shade of pigmentation, across class lines–and almost EVERYONE dances (including us, and I am from the Tom T. Hall school). And most know HOW to dance; we even saw the hoofin’ star of Louisiana Swamp Stomp once again dancing with every free woman on the floor! And…lots of laughter. LOTS.

You can bowl AND listen to live music, and neither activity disrupts the other.

The bar food beats the typical!

The staff is great–a barmaid even tracked me down through the crowd to return a $20 that was “stuck to” the fiver I handed her.

Did I mention the music? It’s a steady diet of SUBSTANTIAL roots rock. Especially zydeco. Just have to mention that Geno zydeco-ized a Lionel Ritchie song–and made it work!

If you do meet friends down here, it is a guaranteed winner. We met two of my former students who happened to be on vacation, too (they are grown, and dating, so it was a pleasure to buy ’em beers and watch ’em dance). Let me let some pics do the rest:

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Mid-City Rock ‘N’ Bowl. 3000 South Carrollton, New Orleans. Before you die.

Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 26

For us, it was a slow music day. To wit:

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We sat in Johnny White’s on St. Peters for the second consecutive day, a bar made famous in ONE DEAD IN ATTIC and THE FIVE PEOPLE YOU MEET IN HELL: SURVIVING KATRINA for staying open throughout Katrina and providing multiple sustenances. The place knows the music it likes: Allmans, Stones, Aerosmith. Tough, blues-based white boy rock, and no NOLA stuff…but, when the local news came on, the music went off, and all six of us–the barmaid, possibly the owner, two obvious regulars, and Nicole and I–watched it and DISCUSSED IT. When’s the last time you did that in a bar? We also praised Pope Francis’ stinging of the Bishop of Bling, as well as cupcake ATMs. That’s right.

Later, peering out of The Cabildo and watching a street band trombonist play AT a street denizen’s dog and taking in his group’s ragged sound, I realized that two years of listening hard to Rebirth, Hot 8, Lil’ Rascals, Soul Rebels, TBC, and The Stooges have enabled me to discern the difference between street and pro. I love ’em both, but, not being a musician, I feel a homely pride in recognizing such distinctions. Also, the other side of the Louisiana History Museum, separated from The Cabildo by St. Louis Cathedral, holds the Katrina and Mardi Gras exhibits. The Mardi Gras exhibit was interesting, but missing Mardi Gras Indian regalia–you have to go to the Backstreet History Museum and Ronald Lewis’ for that. The Katrina exhibit opened with this moving, music-related image: Fats Domino’s flood-ravaged Steinway.

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 Finally, at the sillily named Smoothie King Center, we saw the Pelicans beat the Clippers 98-96 behind Tyreke Evans’ bull-in-a-china-closet drives, Darius Miller’s clutch jumpers, The Brow’s six blocks and double-figure boards, and Blake Griffin’s bonked free throws. What’s that have to do with music? Prize-bearing half-time trivia question: Name the performer of this song. (The original version of “Layla” is played.) Dude gives up. Answer flashed on Jumbotron: ERIC CLAPTON!

Wah-WAH.

Oh wait: I did go back to Louisiana Music Factory and buy Bo Dollis‘ kid’s new CD, a DVD of rare performances by Bunk Johnson and other old-time NOLA jazz masters (ahhh…American Music: the label), and Ann Savoy’s rare book on Cajun music.

Listening Journal, Southern Journey, March 24

We usually wake up to ‘OZ when in NOLA, but got the morning off in the precisely correct spirit with a series of Anita O’Day tunes leading off with “Let Me Off Uptown,” a duet with Roy Eldridge. We were already “uptown,” but we were taking the trolley (one of the simple pleasures of being here), and Anita’s daring duet with a black performer ran parallel with the choices of Hettie Cohen, who chronicles her love affair and life and times with the late LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) in the book I am currently reading, BECOMING HETTIE JONES.

We soon found ourselves on Frenchmen Street in The Marigny, the new location of Louisiana Music Factory, a treasure trove we never miss. I snagged a recent book on NOLA R&B by I HEAR YOU KNOCKIN’ author Jeff Hannusch and a documentary about Mardi Gras Indians, Nicole a new Basin Street Records rekkid by Jason Marsalis, the family’s vibes man. Also, we had to listen to shit music at Pat O’Brien’s (we asked for that), and took the ferry to Algiers, home of great jazzmen like Henry “Red” Allen. The locals at the Dry Dock treated us great.

The real entertainment for the day was a free performance by David Doucet (to my ear, the Cajun Doc Watson), Beausoleil’s guitarist, at the famous Columns Hotel. He and his fiddling partner played a set of traditional Cajun classics including one by the legendary Dennis McGee, as well as some pieces outside the genre, like “Rosalee McFall” and–brilliantly, surprisingly–Dock Boggs’ “Country Blues.” Doucet also hefted an accordian and sounded a LOT like Iry LeJeune.  Here’s some footage from a 2013 show in the same locale that conveys some of the show’s brilliance.

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The only downside is that I did not have the intelligence to get up and dance like the music and spirit required, even though Nicole beckoned me to and was forced to cut a great rug alone. Perhaps my head was too full of Sazeracs  and Old Fashioneds (and my ankles too full of beer), but she deserved my partnership after making my brief bout with rapid heartbeat go away back at the ‘otel with an application of Lee Dorsey. That man is always good for what ails you.