Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Paul Soniat - Below the Water Line

Paul Soniat sings and plays piano.

That's all it is.

And that's all it needs to be.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Rising to meet the challenge

In the face of the almost unspeakable destruction here in 2005, a group of local Bloggers resolved to sponsor a conference on the future of New Orleans. That was the first Rising Tide Conference.

Each year the conference has improved upon the year before with engaging programming and activist networking unlike any event in the city. This year the conference is again taking place in the immediate aftermath of an event of almost unspeakable destruction.

Rising Tide V will be on Saturday, August 28 in the larger venue of The Howlin' Wolf in the warehouse district of NOLA. Find all the details at

When you register, be sure to order this year's beautiful poster and a t-shirt created by local artist (and blogger) Greg Peters. And if you want to be a part of the Oilzilla relief effort, you can join Rising Tide in support of Second Harvest Food Bank the day before the conference. You must sign up in advance to volunteer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Andy J. Forest Band - Let'em Die

I first saw Andy J. Forest perform at the Mirliton Festival in Bywater a couple years after Hurricane Katrina. He and the band put out a sturdy rendition of 3-chord blues appropriately punctuated with fuzzed-out guitar solos and grinding harmonica. I bought their 2007 CD "Real Stories" shortly afterwards and I’ve enjoyed it ever since.

The first cut tells the saddest story of them all, the story of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath with just the right sardonic tone to keep it from rummaging too deeply into the most painful memories. Forest applies the blame generously: everyone gets a shout out: from Mayor Nagin to the Army Corps of Engineers to the President, who provides the title line, “Let’em Die.”

The song is well paced with an outstanding harp solo and sturdy guitar riffing that is sure to snare the table-top drummer in all of us. Forest's phrasing helps him fit all the right words into his lyrics, a technique that almost approaches modern rapping. But have no fear, "Let'em Die" is a blues song from top to bottom with a chorus of singers repeating the refrain like a church choir might repeat a prayer.

It's a dark view of what went down in 2005, but in the tradition of all great blues, revisiting those tragic events seems to provide the will and the energy to go on. The CD was well received and even won a local "Best of the Beat" award for blues.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bonerama - Mr. Go

It starts with horns blowing a tight and urgent alarm. It builds with intensity and anxiety like the soundtrack of a Hitchcock film. And then it breaks into a smooth groove that can only be achieved by a great New Orleans brass line.

Bonerama retells the tale of "Mr. Go," that much hated shipping channel that runs from near Michoud in New Orleans East out to the Gulf of Mexico.

"Twenty feet of water on my crowd,
Mr. Go you bringing me down.
Cypress swamps used to be,
Mr. Go it's broken these.
St. Bernard and Plaquemines,
Lower Nine coming back again.
I don't know what's been said,
Mr. Go you killed them dead."

Craig Klein wrote and sings the lament, delivered at a slightly slower pace than a march, but with an arrangement that soldiers forward through the blues and into post-K victory.

From the CD "Bringing it Home," "Mr. Go" is just one of the outstanding tracks on this 2007 collection of bone-crunching covers and brass-jam originals. Bonerama bills itself as a rock band, and sometimes they really are. But that label limits their artistry in so many ways.

Just listen to the creative use of the sousaphone on this track. New Orleans brass bands know how to toot the tuba at the end of each chord progression, but Bonerama gives the lowest horn an entire solo lead toward the end of the song. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Bonerama recorded "Bringing it Home" at Tipitina's so the CD captures all the spontaneity of a live show that you wish you had been a part of. Regular readers of this blog will know that science does not validate the popular belief that the MR-GO served as a "storm surge super highway" during Hurricane Katrina. But I will not quibble with facts here--this is good rock'n'roll and I love it.

Undaunted joy of NOLA music

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, we New Orleaneans had to endure the endless cast of professional pundits and social commentators telling us that New Orleans was "worth saving" because we gave two great gifts to America: food and music.

Forget that all American citizens deserve equal protection under law and the basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That seemed to be not enough to warrant serious response to the crisis. America needed more. America needed to know that if bad things happened to New Orleans, bad things would happen to America’s food and music.

But that is not what I want to blog about today. No, today and in several weekly blog posts to follow, I want to acknowledge the tremendous contributions New Orleans has made to music in America and even, in the world. And I want to focus in particular on the impact Katrina had on the music of this city.

It is said that, "Blues ain't nothing but a good man feeling down." Lester Bangs once noted that rock'n'roll is "The sound of restless youth." And it was George Harrison who once opined that pop music is just "Happy songs about sad things."

Citizens of NOLA have boatloads of all of the above. Local musicians, experiencing it probably more than the average New Orleanean, have found ways to express these emotions in music.

Feelings of sadness, frustration, doubt and, yes, conviction, courage and perseverance are expressed in many post-K compositions. And on top of it all, overwhelming, undaunted joy.

Over the next few blog posts, I will highlight some of my favorite local expressions of what the combined forces of nature and politics have done to coastal Louisiana--and the unbridled determination to rise above.

When I listen to these songs, I alternately feel the sadness and the joy, the tragedy and the triumph. It's what makes all great music great, and, in my admittedly biased opinion, it's what makes New Orleans music the greatest of all.


Exhibit One: Mr. Go by Bonerama