Greg Schatz is a prime example of a musician who came to New Orleans looking to be graced by the city’s numinous musical spirit and became transformed. On his earlier albums the talented songwriter and quirky, good-natured vocalist accompanied himself on accordion on an amiable catalog of songs about spiritual transformation, nature worship and charming tributes to his wife, the writer Eve Abrams. He quickly carved out a reputation as one of the more enjoyable practitioners of a New Orleans neo-folk style that made the more high-profile national “freak folk” scene look like a frat party by comparison. On his fourth album, Where the River Meets the Railroad Tracks, Schatz brings it all back home, that is to his new home of New Orleans. Schatz has completed the Louisiana permutation, switching to piano and organ to accompany himself and recruiting the Transmaniacon genius Alex McMurray on guitar and the chameleon-like Doug Garrison on drums. Garrison can play any style and make it ease you like a rocking chair, and it seems like McMurray has been on every transformational album by a New Orleans transplant over the last couple of years. This core band illuminates Schatz’s songs with homespun beauty, while a long list of fellow travelers (Dave Stover, Helen Gillet, Joe Cabral, Rick Trolsen, Connie Jones, Tim Laughlin, etc.) color in the margins of the joyful enterprise. On the statement-of-purpose opener “Don’t Give Up On Love,” Schatz manages to time travel back to the early ’70s in some impossibly optimistic view of life worthy of Buzzy Linhart at his “You’ve Got to Have Friends” best. As if to reassure the listener that this was not some kind of hallucination, he follows immediately with the calming “Don’t Get Depressed.” It’s apparent that Schatz has been inoculated with the New Orleans version of boogie-woogie flu as his keyboard lines roll and chuckle with the easy dance step of classic J&M studio R&B.
Garrison sets a parade rhythm for the St. Claude Avenue rumba “Crazy Talk,” graced by a wonderful cello solo from Gillet. Schatz gives another nod to Eve on the happy-go-lucky “My Baby Loves Me More Than Life Itself,” kisses off his old hometown with “What Is It About Living in New York City?” and pines for his new one in “I Just Got to Get Back to New Orleans.” The trad jazz horn charts on the latter two tracks indicate that Schatz has paid close attention to the Kinks masterpieces Muswell Hillbillies and Preservation. Schatz wears such influences well. His roots in the Holy Modal Rounders/Michael Hurley/Jeffrey Fredericks classic Have Moicy are evident on the languid but infectious tracks “This Might Be the Job For You” and “Lip Service,” as well as the sarcastic tribute to the record industry, “Show Business.”