The Batture Boys are a brand-new band; they’ve just been around for a long while. Tommy Malone and Ray Ganucheau have played together on-and-off for two decades, mostly on Malone’s solo projects. Now rechristened as an official duo, they’ve just released a six-song EP, Muddy Water, and will play one of their first gigs at French Quarter Fest, after a February debut at Chickie Wah Wah.
Malone is rightly renowned as a subdude and solo artist, while Ganucheau is one of the city’s more overlooked roots-rock talents—mainly because he hasn’t released much, beyond a self-titled solo album five years ago and a ‘90s stint with the Continental Drifters (during which he co-wrote their anthem “The Mississippi”). Though the two have played together extensively, they hadn’t done much writing together or sung full-fledged harmonies. Since they do both as Batture Boys, the EP has a different vibe than their solo work.
It was a sad occasion that brought them together, when Ganucheau was trying to finish a song about Malone’s subdudes bandmate Johnny Ray Allen, who died suddenly of a heart condition in 2014. “I’d lost a bandmate and we’d both lost a dear friend. In my case we’d been friends since childhood,” Malone says. “Ray came in with this piece of a song, ‘Send the Bones Back Home to Tupelo’—that’s the part of the world he was from. When I asked if he’d finished it, the song needed verses so I wrote those. And our next conversation was ‘This is nice, let’s do more of this.’” Adds Ganucheau, “Tommy’s done more collaborating through the subdudes years, where I usually work in my own vacuum. Once we started writing together, the idea of doing collaborative arrangements and stressing the vocal harmonies started to develop.”
The original plan was to make a casual, acoustic duo record. But it got more fleshed out after they called in producer Jim Scott—who engineered the subdudes back in the day and went onto mega-success with Santana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Says Malone, “We thought it would be like the Milk Carton Kids—microphones, acoustic guitars, two guys singing. But when we brought Jim in, he took more of the reins.” Adds Ganucheau, “It became a more rocking experience, more band sounding even though [drummer] Jimmy Paxson was the only other person on the session. We cut everything on acoustic guitars and drums and added everything else later, so the acoustics were still the driving force in the arrangements.”
The duo’s harmonies give the music a sunny, inviting sound—and a necessary balance, since the subject matter is as murky as it gets. The songs divide neatly into three about ecological disasters—“The Mighty Flood” and “Deep Water Horizon” are respectively about Katrina and the BP oil spill—and three about friends in desperate situations; thus the “muddy water” is part literal and part spiritual.
“Send the Bones Back Home” is suitably heartbreaking lyrically, but gets an uplift from the gospel harmonies. And “Rabbit Hole Blues,” which warns a friend to get his life together, has some Everlys-style harmonies that sweeten the message.
“We both have a loose interpretation of what we think the theme is for the Batture Boys,” Ganucheau says. “I’d say the river and the Delta is the common theme through the material, even though the stories may be more personal; it’s still about the lives of people in this area.”
“Politics, drugs, life—It’s all a big mess when you think about it,” Malone says. “‘Mighty Flood’ is absolutely and completely about Katrina—and the way it was handled, which was all business as usual in Louisiana. The way they do things that aren’t always in the best interests of the majority, but they manage to line the right pockets. A song like ‘Send the Bones’ still makes me tear up to sing it—Johnny and I drifted apart and then back together, but I would say he was the closest person in my life.” The EP includes “You Had a Problem,” the last song he and Allen ever wrote together—“a song where we basically pointed the finger at each other about things we’d done in the past.” It would have undoubtedly been a subdudes song if Allen was still around.
The subdudes are continuing, but Malone admits it’s a lot different now. “It would be a completely different dynamic if he was still with us. For one thing, I’m the only one that still lives here now, so I lost an ally in that regard. We treat it like a once-a-month thing; we go out and play a few gigs, and we enjoy those. But if he were still here, we would have gone on trying to be more creative.”
On the other hand, the Batture Boys have a future that looks promising. They have a growing batch of original songs and newly worked-up covers, so they don’t have to rely on familiar songs. “It’s really the most enjoyable thing I’ve done in a long time,” Malone says. “Long as we can keep these greased pigs in the same pen I’ll be happy.”