This follow-up to last month’s mix, which spanned South Louisiana from east to west, takes root in the Crescent City, chronicling New Orleans’ incarnations of R&B, jazz, and funk. I could easily spend every month focusing on the colorful musical heritage of New Orleans, and I assure you there will be more to come in the future. But for now, dig on this soulful mixture of old favorites and new discoveries, which I feel privileged to share with an appreciative audience.
What better way to kick-start the mix than with the on-air ramblings of legendary New Orleans soul staple, Ernie K. Doe on his energetic and prophetic WWOZ radio show. Follow that with his anthem of independence “I Cried My Last Tear” and The Showmen’s squeaky clean “It Will Stand” and you’ll get a feel for the R&B we’ll run through in this mix. Both songs offer examples of the confessional, healing, and steadfast powers of soul music in The Big Easy.
Next take the hyperbolic hatchet and groove with Jessie Hill to “Chip Chop.” I’m not exactly sure what “Chip Chop” refers to, but I think I can safely assume it’s some sort of dance move. Hill chips and chops and hips and hops to a snare-dominated, tambourine- peppered rhythm-and-blues anthem, insisting that chopping of his woman’s head (figuratively?) will make her his girl.
I try not to let the mental image of decapitation linger too long by transitioning to an inspirational tune from Aaron Neville called “Let’s Live.” In a song that gushes with romanticism, weaving through sentimental string accompaniment, Neville encourages the listener to drop everything—all the petty issues tying you down—and let love guide the rest of your life. Deep gets a lot deeper when “I Wish Someone Would Care” creeps in. The Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas, offers up a deep dish of loneliness in this one.
Next we dip into New Orleans’ jazz side. Louis Armstrong growls one out with “Down By The Riverside;” Oscar “Papa” Celestin haunts our imagination with tales of voodoo sprinkled in snake dust and black magic in “Marie Laveau;” and Baby Dodds offers up his early jazz fused with ragtime, Dixieland, and some French thrown in with “Creole Blues.”
We return to soul, in a serious way, with Tony Owens’ deep cut, “I Got Soul,” a slow moving groove that bleeds into the effortlessly jaunty and carefree “I Got Loaded” by Little Bob and the Lollipops, itemizing a laundry list of beverages consumed last night and the wine to be consumed tonight.
A very somber topic triggers a song by Huey “Piano” Smith identical to “Rockin’ Pneumonia,” save for words, about New Orleans’ second line tradition, small parades made up of local music appreciators and culture admirers who feel the groove so deep they just have to be a part of it.
The hoodoo and mysticism of Dr. John comes next in his cover of Huey “Piano” Smith’s “Blow Wind Blow” off 1972’s Dr. John’s Gumbo, which travels through this realm with piano rolls and a lyrical wispiness not unlike the redemptive wind in its title. This cut is followed by a beautiful track, “Indian Love Song,” that blends folk elements with blues and traditional Mardi Gras Indian lore. New Orleans master guitarist, Carl Leblanc, repeats classic Indian terminology, creating an atmospheric scene where you can’t help but imagine the marching, chanting, and feuding tribes in a romantic light, in which the battle over “Two-Way-Pocky-Way” is less about a death-match and more about a union of tradition and culture. Usually as I near the end of a mix, I like to slow things down while also weaving the elements of the mix together. I think this quiet little masterpiece does just that.
To end, I chose a deep cut by Allen Toussaint titled “Go Back Home.” It isn’t a stretch to assume that both the physical and emotional location of New Orleans is the “home” Toussaint sings of. New Orleans is where his love is. The city of New Orleans, one of such musical and cultural originality, one that beautifully intertwines art in all its forms, is the place that has that “warm, sweet, and tender touch.”
Ernie K. Doe – I Cried My Last Tear
The Showmen – It Will Stand
Jessie Hill – Chip Chop
Aaron Neville – Let’s Live
Irma Thomas – I Wish Someone Would Care
Louis Armstrong – Down By The Riverside
Oscar “Papa” Celestin – Marie Laveau
Baby Dodds – Creole Blues
Tony Owens – I Got Soul
Little Bob and the Lollipops – I Got Loaded
Huey “Piano” Smith – The Second Line
Dr. John – Blow Wind Blow
Carl LeBlanc – Indian Love Song
Allen Toussaint – Go Back Home
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