Sounds of Spring

by Andrew Elias

Preservation Hall Jazz Band
So It Is

Possibly the greatest of all New Orleans’ jazz bands, this might be their greatest album of all. A combustible gumbo of Crescent City funk spiced up with Cuban rhythms.

The title track opens the record with a smooth, jazzy shuffle, before exploding into the frenzied pace of ‘Santiago,’ which like ‘La Malanga,’ showcase Cuba’s inspiration the most. Even with a horn section that cooks red hot, it’s the pianist, Kyle Roussel, who stand out among all these fantastic musicians.

The band has been expanding its repertoire in recent years and their exploration of Cuban music has re-invigorated their sound, infusing their more traditional New Orleans-style jazz with newfound vigor. To put it simply: a great jazz record that is nothing but a party from beginning to end.

The Soul of John Black
Early in the Moanin’

With equal parts Chicago, Memphis and Delta blues, the man known as The Soul of John Black (John Bigham is his real name) has released the album his career was always leading him to. After years with the band Fishbone and working with several producers on previous solo records, Bigham produced this record himself. And the result is as impressive a blues record as any in recent years.

Imagine a mix of Bill Withers’ rich vocals and Gary Clark, Jr.’s raunchy guitar, a mix of John Lee Hooker and Dr. Dre, and you’ll have some idea of what The Soul of John Black is all about — but not quite, because although he sounds familiar, he is an original.

Standouts are the title track and ‘Cher,’ on which you might think you were listening to Bill Withers himself (it’s that good!), as well as the swampy blues of ‘Crooked Leg.’ There isn’t a blues fan who won’t love this record.

Chano Dominguez
Over the Rainbow

One of the greatest pianists alive, Dominguez has released a remarkable recording of a 2012 solo performance

An endlessly inventive and often provocative player, his music is infused with the many and varied Spanish musical traditions. Throughout this 74 minutes you are constantly aware of his mastery of the instrument and repeatedly reminded of his sophisticated eloquence and the poetry in his fingers.

A pristine live recording, you will be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous 74 minutes of piano playing, not the least of which is Chano’s breathtakingly beautiful version of ‘Over the Rainbow.’

Imelda May
Life Love Flash Blood

May burst onto the scene with a kick-ass rockabilly band, a nouveau-retro look and a bunch of ballsy bluesy songs. But after a few albums and guest spots singing with Jeff Beck, it was clear that her shtick would limit her creativity. Along comes producer extraordinaire, T Bone Burnett to guide her back to her music roots and a newfound depth to her songwriting. Songs like ‘Call Me’ and ‘The Girl I Used to Be’ show off a far more vulnerable side than evident on her previous records, but songs like ‘Black Tears’ and ‘When It’s My Time’ showcase that same sassy, sexy voice.

Old fans will not be disappointed — songs like ‘Bad Habit’ wouldn’t be out of place on her previous records — and she should gain a whole lot of new admirers.

Southern Avenue

Named for the street in Memphis where the original Stax Records had it’s home, this young band is making that city proud, continuing the soulful R & B and bluesy gospel traditions that produced so much great music and so many big stars.

Singer Tierinii Jackson’s voice is sweet and strong, able to break hearts (‘It’s Gonna be Alright’ and ‘Love Me Right’) and kick asses (‘80 Miles to Memphis’ and ‘No Time to Lose’). Add her sister Tikyra on drums and the searing guitar of Israeli blues man Ori Naftaly and you have a first-rate band ready to party.
The hit here, among quite a few standouts, is ‘Slipped Tripped and Fell in Love,’ a throwback to the Stax and Motown classics of the 1960s & 1970s.

Nina Massara
Watch Me

Bold and brassy, Nina Massara belts out the blues with a decidedly New Orleans funk, and while comparisons to Bonnie Raitt are inevitable, Massara is very much her own woman. With a kittenish Eartha Kitt-ish voice and a collection of seductive shuffles and bumping blues, and songs with titles like ‘You Ain’t Up to It,’ Impossible to Resist’ and ‘Full Grown Woman,’ she delivers, with the aid of a hot band and cool horn section, a playful, rockin,’ rhythm & blues record.

For fans of Raitt, Little Feat, John Hiatt, Sheryl Crow, Sharon Jones, and Beth Hart. •

May-June 2017