There’s a certain DIY charm to the Smoking Time Jazz Club. This is a band that has earned its keep in the New Orleans trad jazz scene through long days busking on Royal Street and all-night cutting sessions at Frenchmen Street haunts such as the Spotted Cat and Maison. The group’s previous releases have consisted of burned CDs encased in black-and-white paper sleeves, so it’s a welcome surprise to find their latest effort gleaming with a production value worthy of the band’s incredible talent.
The repertoire featured on Oh Sister… hints at the band’s deep knowledge and appreciation for early jazz. Unique arrangements of oft-forgotten gems like “Froggy Bottom,” “Jackass Blues” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “Sidewalk Blues” distinguish the disc from other modern trad albums. Smoking Time also manages to make (somewhat) more well-known songs such as “Messin’ Around” and “Original Jelly Roll Blues” its own by injecting them with an infectious swing, expert horn work and the vibrant vocal style of Sarah “Petey P” Peterson. The energy does drop a bit toward the end of the record, but it is salvaged in the closing track, a killer, slow-burning rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “Wild Man Blues.”
Like many local jazz bands, Smoking Time features a rotating cast of players. Oh Sister… highlights the A-team from this lot. Bassist and bandleader John Joyce is joined by regular members such as the stellar young trumpeter Jack Pritchett and the cool understated Mike Voelker on drums. The addition of more part-time personnel such as Dan “Diesel” Oestreicher on baritone sax and the fiery Aurora Nealand on soprano elevate the new album to another level. All this makes Oh Sister Ain’t That Hot! Smoking Time Jazz Club’s best album to date and one of the better traditional jazz records to come out of New Orleans in recent memory.