Everybody knows that year-end Top 10 lists are unfair (who, after all, has heard it all?), but we still love to read them. So we had the staff and a couple of contributing writers compile their very own lists for Christmas. The guidelines were vague: it had to happen or be released in 1991, it could be albums, shows or both, include comments if you want and try and have some New Orleans stuff on the list. Here are five opinions on musical highlights, 1991-style.
(P.S. We already know of one person who’ll complain. But Lance, if you’re nice about it, we’ll let you do your own list next year!)
1. Paul Simon in Concert, January (Lafayette), September (New Orleans)
Twenty-five years of great material to choose from, the best backup band in the world, and the only three-hour show that not only produced not one dull moment, but left me wanting more.
2. Reggae Superfest, Municipal Auditorium, August 20
A study in the expressiveness of percussion and superb musicianship from Third World, with the spirituality and social consciousness of Rastafarianism.
3. Steve Masakowski, Friends
A long-overdue release by New Orleans contemporary jazz guitarist features some of our best, including Ellis Marsalis, Bill Huntington, Rick Margitza, Mike Pellera and Herlin Riley, with the local standard “Steppin’ Out.”
4. Ellis Marsalis, The Classic Ellis Marsalis (AFO)
Originally recorded in the early ’60s, the level of musicianship makes the swing fresh. Features some excellent local musicians who should not be forgotten: drummer James Black, saxophonist Nat Perrilliat and bassist Marshall Smith.
5. Tony Dagradi and Astral Project
Each performance is an adventure. Some of the most expressive and intuitive group improvisation anywhere is performed by New Orleans’ best, including tenor and soprano saxophonist Dagradi, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, pianist David Torkanowsky, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton.
6. The Iguanas
New Orleans’ ‘funniest’ new band combines Mexicali waltzes and polkas with old-time New Orleans R&B.
7. The Steve Lacy Sextet, Snug Harbor, June 9
With nearly 15 years together, this Paris-based avant garde jazz band performed the most intense improvisation I’ve ever heard.
8. The Neville Brothers
Their grooves move and mesmerize every soul at any of their shows.
9. Crash Test Dummies, The Ghosts That Haunt Me
Not local, but a refreshing new band with a folky-ethnic pop sound and that alluring deep voice.
10. Aaron Neville, Warm Your Heart (A&M)
Anyone who used to make love to Johnny Mathis records in the back seat of a Chevrolet might want to grab his steady and climb on back with this one on.
1. Cowboy Mouth at Tipitina’s, September 28
To this guy’s mind, this is the show when C.M. finally put it all together, with a string of fine songs, John Griffith finally feeling comfortable with the guitar hero role and Fred—even more electrifying than usual—toying with the audience. With crazed new bass player Steve Walters, the band seems to have loosened up a bit, playing more for the fun. Let me not forget Paul Sanchez, who is writing some fine new songs. Watch out when their new album, recorded a month or so ago in Nashville, comes out.
2. Champion Jack Dupree, Forever and Ever (Bullseye Blues/Rounder)
Champ’s second visit to New Orleans seems to have been the charm, as he delivers a Crescent City blues oratorio guaranteed to chill and amuse.
3. Johnny Adams, Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus/The Real Me (Rounder)
A sterling tribute to both the late songwriter Doc Pomus and Johnny’s consummate vocal skills.
4. Keys to the Crescent City (Rounder)
This fine album is primarily piano solos by Eddie Bo, Art Neville, Willie Tee and Charles Brown, with the latter seeming a bit out of place. Bo’s tracks burn with remarkable intensity, as he sings “Every Dog Got His Day” thirty years after he first recorded the song. Tee’s solos are stark and majestic. Neville synths up two Nevilles’ standards and throws in “Another Blues Stringer,” a tribute to Jimi Hendrix.
5. Alligator Stomp, Volume 2 (Rhino)
A great, danceable collection of zydeco and Cajun classics that hits all the right spots.
6. Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Wolf at the Door (Rounder)
Wolfman’s best funky-soul-blues yet. Warm and powerful.
7. Guitar Slim, Sufferin’ Mind (Specialty)
Perhaps the definitive Guitar Slim collection, containing everything he recorded for Specialty, though the compilers went a bit crazy with the inconsequential studio talk intros.
8. Troy Turner, Teenage Blues in Baton Rouge (King Snake/Ichiban)
Turner, often described as a combo of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, is a major talent waiting to explode. His debut shows his promise mainly through his fiery guitar licks.
9. Irma Thomas, Something Good: The Muscle Shoals Sessions (Chess/MCA)
These tracks, recorded with the noted Muscle Shoals session musicians in 1967, capture Ms. Irma at a high soulful point. Actually, she can outsing this stuff today (but she sometimes lets her shows get too superclub).
10. Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, Your Mama Don’t Know (Rounder)
This is nothing but fun. Zydeco at its zaniest.
(A man of few wards…)
1. Jan Garbarek, I Took Up the Runes (ECM)
2. Branford Marsalis, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born (Sony)
3. Cassandra Wilson, She Who Weeps (JMT)
4. Dr. Michael White, Crescent City Serenade (Antilles)
5. Kenny Barron, Quick Step (Enja)
6. Roy Hargrove, Public Eye
7. Terrance Blanchard, Terrance Blanchard
8. Wynton Marsalis, Soul Gestures in Southern Blue Vol. 1-3
9. Abbey Lincoln, You Gotta Pay the Band
10. Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Returns to Berlin
Here are my favorite musical events, records, etc. An eclectic mix, for sure, but then I’m known for my eclecticism.
1. 1991 Jazz Fest
Yeah, it was crowded, but this year I floated around and sotted myself on more music than a human can possibly handle. It really just gets better and better every year.
2. Music From New Orleans, music series in production
If this series doesn’t get picked up by PBS and become New Orleans’ version of “Austin City Limits,” well, there ain’t no God. The production values were flawless, the audiences appreciative, and the artists, as usual, were sublime. My favorite was Frankie Ford (who you rarely get to hear these days outside of Jazz Fest), Dr. John (there’s nothing like sitting right in front of the piano), and Jon Cleary (one of my all-time favorites and a most under-appreciated artist).
3. Robert Ward, Fear No Evil
Thank you, Black Top, for laying this amazing album on us. Absolutely the most fantastic album you’ll hear, if you like blues guitar. Also, Ward’s concert at Tip’s in September blew me away.
4. Aaron Neville, Warm Your Heart
The man’s gentle soul was more than evident in this album. If CDs could wear out, mine would have by now. Also, I’d like to mention my admiration for the fine and laving production that went into this album, so kudos to you, Linda Ronstadt!
5. The First Annual Harmonica Showdown, Mid-City Lanes, May 1
This was a blast, a good idea that packed the bowlin’ alley to the gills. Lots of heavy blowin’ and bowlin’ that night. Let’s do it again, Rockin’ Jake!
6. 1991 Treme Festival
This festival was so much fun, it made me appreciate all over why I live in New Orleans. The crowd was small, friendly and appreciative, the music was lively and superb, and the food simple but satisfying. Yeah!
7. Mayor’s Musicians’ Recognition Luncheon and the “Big Easy Awards”
So often, local musicians feel as though nobody appreciates them. Well, these events should change all that, giving same recognition to those musicians who have been with us for a long time, with little enough praise from the public.
8. Cowboy Mouth
Okay, I admit it, I’m a groupie for Fred and the boys. But, hey, the songwriting doesn’t get much better than this, or the performance more electrifying. They’re comin’ at ya…
9. Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra revival
At last, the musicians have taken their future into their own hands! If the recent gala was any harbinger of things to come, the Philharmonic has a bright future. Let them live long!
10. The new clubs in town that are opening …and the old ones that are now featuring music
I can’t wait til Charlie B’s opens…or the new Howlin’ Wolf. Let’s hope Storyville doesn’t get too carried away with comedy, and that they book some great touring acts along with locals. Many restaurants and bars are now featuring local music…the more, the merrier, we say.
Five that say ‘New Orleans”…
1. Fats Domino, They Call Me the Fat Man box set (EMI)
A revelation. Sure, everybody has heard “Blueberry Hill,” but what about “Swanee River Hop,” a killer instrumental? To date, Fats remains New Orleans’ most significant contribution to rock ‘n’ roll. This set shows why. (See review)
2. Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Wolf At the Door (Rounder) and/or Sada (PointBlank/Virgin)
I couldn’t decide which I preferred. Both are soulful fusions of blues, jazz and funk. Sada is brassier; Wolf At the Door, smokier. Two solid contemporary New Orleans records.
3. Johnny Adams, Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus/The Real Me (Rounder)
The right voice for the right songs. This is the real shit.
4. The subdudes, Lucky (EastWest/Atlantic)
Great harmonies propel the lazy, sing-along songs. “Another Heartbreak Now” hits its mark with aching accuracy.
A cool club, despite the bathrooms. And I’ll be manning the barricades with you guys next time the BMI attorneys give you trouble.
…and five that don’t …
1. Queensryche in Concert, April 27, Lakefront Arena
Remove all the cliches from a standard hard rock show and substitute a brilliant audio-visual staging of a socio-political rock opera, toss in tight musicianship and stunning vocals, and you’ve got this show, a fine example of what arena rock can be.
2. Eric Johnson in Concert, September 7, McAlister Auditorium
Guitar heroics minus the ego. He showcased much of his excellent 1990 album, Ah Via Musicom. About the only parts of Johnson that moved were his hands—and that was enough.
3. Guns ‘N Roses, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (Geffen)
The volume of material (140 minutes) and scope is staggering. They’ve discovered the piano, and “14 Years” shows they know what to do with it. If the band doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own publicity overload, the Gunners may become the Rolling Stones of the 90s, in a hard rock sort of way.
4. U2, Achtung Baby (Island)
After being blasted for aping American music and coming across in a generally pompous manner, the members of U2 hid out in the harshest corners of Berlin and their hometown of Dublin for two years and reemerged with a tough, at times industrial, record. Take this baby, indeed.
5. 2 Live Crew didn’t release an album this year, and if they did, I didn’t hear about it.