Keys to the City: OffBeat’s Top 40 CDs of 2009

This has been a resurgent year for New Orleans indie rock, which is as strong as it has been in a long time. Park the Van Records moved back to town, the New Orleans Indie Rock Collective has been active promoting the bands and organizing festivals to help get the Generationals, MyNameIsJohnMichael, Caddywhompus, Big Rock Candy Mountain and host of other deserving bands in front of larger audiences.

With that in mind, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that, as we surveyed the releases of 2009, we found practitioners in the traditional fields turned in some of the strongest albums. Few releases in our top 20 are strictly traditional, though, and nothing typifies what happened like our top two albums, Tom McDermott’s New Orleans Duets and Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi. McDermott and Toussaint play the most storied instrument in New Orleans musical history, and they worked with traditional forms. But each artist made something fresh out from them—McDermott making traditional jazz the social grease between him and his collaborators, and Toussaint reproducing it as capital “A” art, something as lovely, thoughtful and elegant as his playing. They and many of the others in this list demonstrated that our musical past is always with us, but it doesn’t imprison us.

reviews.tommcdermott1. Tom McDermott: New Orleans Duets (Rabadash) “McDermott refuses to call attention to himself, using his encyclopedic talents in service of the myriad of musical genres presented.”— reviewed April 2009 by John Swenson

2. Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch) “The Bright Mississippi is certainly dignified, and most importantly, it’s dignified without being distant. Toussaint reveals another side of this art here for anyone willing to hear it.”—reviewed May 2009 by Alex Rawls

3. BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet: Alligator Purse (Yep Roc) “There’s something a little more kinetic, a little more freewheeling going on here.”—reviewed February 2009 by David Lee Simmons

4. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: New Orleans Preservation, Volume 1 (Preservation Hall) “The ensemble playing is often wonderful, particularity in the ecstatic conclusion to “Tiger Rag,” where Braud’s trumpet and Charlies Gabriel’s clarinet keep threatening to break away from the band.”—reviewed June 2009 by Alex Rawls

5. Leroy Jones: Sweeter Than A Summer Breeze (Spirit of New Orleans) “Jones phrases everything perfectly in a narcotic reverie without ever allowing the emotion to curdle into tritely sentimental or saccharine territory.”— reviewed April 2009 by John Swenson

reviews.redstickramblers6. Red Stick Ramblers: My Suitcase is Always Unpacked (Sugar Hill) “A Very entertaining album that sounds supremely confident.”—reviewed August 2009 by Alex Rawls

7. New Orleans Nightcrawlers: Slither Slice (Threadhead) “While you’ll be hard pressed to find brass this tight, jazz this loose and funk this vibrant, it’s Slither Slice’s intangibles that’ll really blow you away.”—reviewed July 2009 by Aaron LaFont

8. Jeff Albert Quartet: Similar in the Opposite Way (For a Sound) “Moore and Albert explore a melodic thought sympathetically or in counterpoint in startlingly succinct statements.”—reviewed March 2009 by Alex Rawls

9. Terence Blanchard: Choices (Concord Jazz) “Blanchard’s trumpet playing is aural poetry, and the beauty of his solo constructions mirrored the gravity-defying exhilaration of the library’s massive vaulted wooden dome.”—reviewed September 2009 by John Swenson

10. David Greely: Sud de Sud (Give And Go Records) “As much as Sud de Sud is rooted in tradition, there’s also a welcome degree of progressive interpretation and hauntingly gorgeous originals.”—reviewed December 2009 by Dan Willging

11. Zachary Richard: Last Kiss (Artist Garage) “Richard takes a reflective tone, threading homespun tales of Acadian heritage with profound metaphors of love and loss.”—reviewed May 2009 by Aaron LaFont

reviews.jasonmarsalis12. Jason Marsalis: Music Update (ELM) “With Music Update, part of the album’s pleasure is at the meta-level, but you also hear Marsalis’ creative, conceptual voice, which is already sophisticated beyond his years.”—reviewed September 2009 by Alex Rawls

13. The Magnolia Sisters: Stripped Down (Arhoolie) “The Sisters cover a lot of ground stylistically—lively fiddle duets, feathery finger picking, Calypso beats, honking squeezebox bass notes that blossom into full-tilt two-steps and dean-on, muted guitar barre chords.”— reviewed October 2009 by Dan Willging

14. Sasha Masakowski: Musical Playground (Independent) “She approaches the songs as a musician, and her stylized warmth in “Afro Blue” is as much a decision as her deliberate, gliding take on “All or Nothing at All.”— reviewed April 2009 by Alex Rawls

15. Cyril Neville: Brand New Blues (M.C. Records) “The power and passion in his voice bring everything to life.”—reviewed April 2009 by Alex Rawls

16. Mutemath: Armistice (Warner Bros) “The guys take every musical instrument they know how to play and add them to the mix, creating musical harmony.”— reviewed November 2009 by Lauren Loeb

17. Jeremy Davenport: We’ll Dance ‘Till Dawn (Basin Street) “Davenport’s attention to the musical aspects of his performance evokes that golden era of the lounge singer, and it’s the reason that We’ll Dance ’til Dawn stays with you.”— reviewed November 2009 by Alex Rawls

18. Curley Taylor & Zydeco Trouble: Zydeco Heart and Soul (Louisiana Soul) “Though Taylor sees himself as a hipster in today’s contemporary music scene, another part of him is a soul throwback more akin to Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack.”— reviewed November 2009 by Dan Willging

19. Panorama Jazz Band: Come Out Swingin’ (Independent) “Ben Schenck and company unify the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and New Orleans through their musical voices.”— reviewed September 2009 by Alex Rawls

30104_02_CS_Digi.indd20. Christian Scott: Live at Newport (Concord) “This impressive set shows that… Scott and his band are most effective when they get down to basics and let that music speak for itself.”—reviewed January 2009 by John Swenson

The Next Twenty: (arranged alphabetically)

Bonerama: Hard Times (High Steppin’) ”They’re content to be a solid funk band and are exactly that.”—reviewed December 2009 by Alex Rawls

Bonsoir, Catin: Vive L’Amour (Valcour) “Beautiful songs aside, the Catins are also just plain fun.”—reviewed October 2009 by Dan Willging

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux featuring Reverend Goat Carson: Rising Sun (f.Boo Music) “Capture the excitement of setting out with the Big Chief on a Mardi Gras morning.”—reviewed July 2009 by Aaron LaFont

John Boutté and Paul Sanchez: Stew Called New Orleans (Threadhead Records) “The connection between Boutté and Sanchez is real. The piquant blend of their simpatico philosophies on life and music, so charmingly mixed in these 11 cuts, is the kind of splendid soul that speaks best for itself.”—reviewed May 2009 by Robert Baird

Brother Tyrone: Mindbender (Guitar Joe’s House of Blues) “You need at least two copies of this record, because you’re definitely going to want to give one to a friend.”—reviewed January 2009 by John Swenson

Buckwheat Zydeco: Lay Your Burden Down (Alligator) “Zydeco, you see, is only one of the things that the artist formerly known as Stanley Dural, Jr. does well.”—reviewed May 2009 by Dan Willging

The Figs: What Keeps You Up At Night (Independent) “The Figs have retained their signature attributes like the shuffling rhythms that are topped off by multi-part harmonies that range from breathtaking to haunting.”—reviewed February 2009 by Dan Willging

Henry Gray and the Cats: Times Are Getting’ Hard (Lucky Cat) “This is a superb release from a true legend. This is what the blues is all about.”—reviewed October 2009 by Jeff Hannusch

Tim Laughlin: A Royal St. Serenade (Gentilly) “The title composition features a clear, simple clarinet melody that is so easily grasped that it seems like it must have been around forever.”—reviewed August 2009 by Alex Rawls

Eric Lindell: Gulf Coast Highway (Alligator) “Lindell steps into his own and finds the ideal balance for his down-home pop sensibilities.”—reviewed May 2009 by Aaron LaFont

Alex McMurray: How to be a Cannonball (Threadhead) “Whether softly singing an ode to Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe or ranting about Captain Sandy, McMurray’s lovely voice and tone allow him to inhabit his characters without turning them into caricatures.”— reviewed July 2009 by David Kunian

MyNameIsJohnMichael: The People That Come and Go (Independent) “The result is an album of dense, larger-than-life songs.”—reviewed May 2009 by Rory Callais

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra: Book One (Harmonia Mundi) “This album has an emotional power and depth of writing/arrangement content that invites comparisons to similar efforts by such past giants of jazz orchestration as Duke Ellington, Count Baise and Charles Mingus.”—reviewed June 2009 by John Swenson

The Peekers: Life in the Air (Park the Van) “One generally comes to love the magpie mind of this endearing band and the synthesized ambience of their sweet, simple love songs that bring to mind the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Cass Eliot, John Philips and Denny Doherty.”—reviewed June 2009 by Adrienne Bruno

Pine Leaf Boys: Homage au Passe (Lionsgate) “It isn’t rock ’n’ roll, but it rocks, and whether they’re playing a two-step or a waltz, they play it with rock ’n’ roll attitude.”—reviewed January 2009 by Alex Rawls

The Radiators: The Lost Southlake Sessions (Radz) “It’s the kind of album indie bands were defiantly trying to make around the same time, with a raw, uncompromising feel and a visceral energy that matches the intensity of real-time Rads performances.”—reviewed October 2009 by John Swenson

Rock City Morgue: The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (Castle Gray Skull) “The realm Rock City Morgue has inhabited is a fun one.”— reviewed November 2009 Alex Rawls

Kermit Ruffins: Livin’ a Treme Life (Basin Street) “Ruffins’ love for the city speaks to people and transcends the details of the recordings, and those who similarly love New Orleans without question find him singing their song.”—reviewed May 2009 by Alex Rawls

the subdudes: Flower Petals (429) “The songs are beautifully crafted, built around Tommy Malone and John Magnie’s strong lead vocals and superb harmony arrangements for their band partners.”— reviewed November 2009 by John Swenson

Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship: No Blood No Blooms (Domino Sound) “This record is strange, beautiful, sometimes out of tune, and always—always!—bristling with spirit.”—reviewed February 2009 by Ben Berman