Reading the lists and catching some flak made me itch to put my own preferences down. What follows is necessarily incomplete because I can’t even pretend to listen to everything that was released this past year, but it’s a pretty good reflection of what I was actually digging in my own space.
Alex McMurray – I Will Never Be Alone In This Land. The subtitle could be “Nobody recording in New Orleans is alone as long as Alex McMurray is around.” McMurray plays on a number of the best albums made in the city this past year, and his latest solo outing is a great collection of songs conjuring up wild characters and wisecracking worthy of Randy Newman. Personal favorite: “The Man Who Shot the Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.”
Greg Schatz – Where the River Meets the Railroad Tracks. Bywater Pied Piper writes positive-thinking anthems like “Don’t Give Up On Love.” Yes, that’s Alex McMurray on guitar.
John Boutté– All About Everything. New Orleans’ consummate vocalist on a Blake Leyh-produced set featuring great songs from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Alex McMurray’s “Heaven’s Door.”
Debbie Davis – It’s Not the Years It’s the Miles. Long overdue solo masterpiece from the Pfister Sisters’ Davis features contributions from her peers, who include many of the town’s most thoughtful and creative musicians. Davis’ husband, bassist and tuba player Matt Perrine, wrote the beautiful arrangements on the disc, and the ubiquitous Alex McMurray penned three of the songs including the title track. Davis is equally at home singing the early 20th century Irving Berlin tune “You’d Be Surprised” and the Amy Winehouse vehicle “You Know I’m No Good.”
Paul Sanchez and Colman DeKay – Nine Lives: A Musical Story of New Orleans. The so-far complete score of this evolving theatrical piece based on Dan Baum’s great book. This isn’t the last we’ll be hearing from a production that is being worked up for an off-Broadway presentation at New York’s Public Theater. The record features performances from more than 100 local musicians, including Alex McMurray.
Ed Volker – Love in the Ruins. When the Radiators broke up, the band’s principal songwriter was suddenly free to concentrate on his own material the way he wanted to hear it. The prolific Volker has turned out seven new releases since then, a treasure trove of whimsical New Orleans verse set to DIY home studio accompaniment. On this release Volker revisited songs originally written 30 years ago and set aside. His rewrites, especially “Fool’s Game,” “Settle Me Down Easy,” “All the Good Ones are Gone” and the title track, speak starkly to the moment.
Tab Benoit – Legacy. This strong compilation shows what anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to the great blues guitarist, singer and songwriter has been missing.
Anders Osborne – Black Eye Galaxy. Osbourne’s After the Gold Rush. ‘Nuff said.
Soul Rebels – Unblock Your Mind. One of the most disciplined and creative brass bands in the city rose to the occasion to make this excellent recording, highlighted by a great version of Allen Toussaint’s “Night People” and the Staples Singers title-song hit, which features a guest vocal from Cyril Neville.
Gina Forsyth – Promised Land. Great album from a virtuoso fiddle player and tremendously underrated songwriter whose quirky socio-political observations are fabulously inventive. “Sweet and Sunny South” is a killer.
Dee-1 – The Focus Tape. Why is it that a hip-hop artist offering a positive message is considered some kind of gimmick? Are rappers only allowed to offer violent stereotypes as examples of Black American lifestyle in order to be considered “authentic?” If so, who’s really behind that idea? Dee-1 follows Chuck D and Master P. He rocks it on “Never Clockin’ Out.”
Theresa Andersson – Street Parade. My personal highlight of Mardi Gras 2012 was seeing Theresa Andersson flying above St. Charles Avenue singing the title song from the back of an enormous bird. The splendor of the vision matches the beauty of this record.
Dr. Michael White – Adventures in New Orleans Jazz Vol. 2. The great traditional jazz clarinetist has come to life since his magnificent Blue Crescent and sees all kinds of new ways to exercise his muse on material ranging from the warhorse “Tiger Rag” to the Turtles’ “Happy Together.” Dr. Lonnie Smith’s brooding epic “And the World Weeps” is the highlight.
Andy J. Forest – Other Rooms. Songwriter/harmonica virtuoso Forest comes up with another brace of great songs about life in downtown New Orleans. “That was Our Good Bye” is his remembrance of departed friends Coco Robicheaux and Kenny Holladay.
Derrick Freeman – Blurple Pain. A freewheeling romp through Freeman’s fertile imagination, running from consciousness-raising hip hop to puerile novelty tunes. In Freeman’s world Fallujah and Backatown are part of the same battleground. A great listen that starts out angry (“I got some shit I gotta get off my chest”) and ends up inspirational, dedicated to “all my fallen brothers /all the Sixth Ward soldiers who lost their lives in the struggle.”
The Honeypots – Something Sweet. A charming gathering of three talented local women songwriters – Lynn Drury, Margie Perez and Monica McIntyre.
Lost Bayou Ramblers – Mammoth Waltz. In our celebrity-worshiping culture too much has been made of the fact that the Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano guested with the Ramblers. What matters more is that this young Cajun band has the vision to encourage such a collaboration and plot a future course for its indigenous music.
Radiators – The Last Watusi. A terrific document of this legendary band’s farewell concerts at Tipitina’s in June of 2011. The raw elegance, beauty and eclecticism of this Louisiana rock ‘n’ roll potpourri is captured in all its ragged glory here.
Hooray for the Riff Raff – Look Out Mama. When Alynda Lee Segarra sings “what’s lost can never be retrieved,” she’s reflecting the hard lessons that even a young band such as this learns on the street, and that people all over the world learn every day at every age. Hooray… reflects the city’s post-Katrina sensibility in a manner both unvarnished and exportable, a heady combination that bodes well for their future.
Galactic – Carnivale Electricos. New Orleans funk at its most daringly progressive.
Dr. John – Locked Down. Dan Auerbach plays the role of Dr. Frankenstein in this remake of the legendary Night Tripper saga for contemporary ‘viewers (STET Please pun implied). Mac is certainly an amused if not fully involved participant in this drama.
Helen Gillet. Contemporary New Orleans is full of improvisers eager to try anything to expand their creative borders. Cellist/conceptualist Gillet is a great example of this phenomenon, alternately playing classical and theatrical music, French chansons and improvisational jazz. Her latest project has her experimenting with loops and digital delay in a dazzling hermaphrodite conception.