Billy Iuso, Naked (Independent)

Billy Iuso, Naked, album cover

Brooklyn-born Billy Iuso, like so many musicians of his generation, moved to New Orleans in search of a musical grail. A guitarist by trade, he became part of the neo-funk movement that dovetailed with the ascent of jam-band culture in America. His loose-limbed blues rock approach to soloing was tailor made for the jam-band aesthetic and in New Orleans he was able to put together rhythm sections that allowed him to extrapolate for chorus after chorus. Like many New Orleans players Iuso works best as a live performer capable of delivering multiple-set concerts that gurgle into the wee hours. He is also a voracious collaborator, working his way through various Mardi Gras Indian concert lineups over the years. But it wasn’t until he hooked up with another guitarist who came from far away, Anders Osborne, that Iuso’s conception coalesced. Fans of his previous albums will find Naked a marked departure from the Iuso they’ve come to know. After playing and touring with Osborne, and recording with him on last year’s excellent Three Free Amigos EP, Iuso has finally emerged as a songwriter. Iuso has written originals before, but Osborne, who plays and sings on the album, co-writes “Valerie” and shares production with Iuso, has clearly brought his friend to a new level. On “I See You,” “The Spark” and “Why Away” we are aware of the lyrics, Iuso’s well-recorded vocals, and the structure of the song. Guitars are in the mix to help frame the story and to accelerate the narrative, not for the sake of the jam. Iuso delivers a nuanced vocal on John Fohl’s brilliant “Do Or Die” and pays homage to a departed friend, Jaik Miller, with “Berkeley Blues/Nola 428” and two versions of “Your Kind of Fool,” one included as a bonus track. He employs some of the city’s best players, including steel guitarist Dave Easley and tenor/baritone saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, as well as Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett. It’s a tribute to Iuso’s growth as a musician that this much firepower could appear on an album that stays resolutely in service to the song.