Friendship has its privileges, and in the case of singer John Boutte and Paul Sanchez, that means getting together and knocking out a record in a single session. What you hear on this well-played, extremely well-sung yet laid back session of singer-songwritery, blues jazz is not ambition so much as confidence in each other’s abilities and the easy grace that comes from music making in a town and in a “stew” of genres you love and understand.
An engaging, one-two meld of Sanchez’ songwriting and Boutte’s reedy, Sam Cooke-like voice, this varied collection waggles back and forth from “Two-Five-One, (a Sanchez send-up of the jazzman’s chords) through a not-done-to-death Jelly Roll Morton cover, “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say,” to a beautifully realized version of Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” with—let’s git legit!—“harmonies by J.S. Bach.”
Both players outdo themselves in the singing department with Boutte delightfully wending his way through lyrical tangles like those in the Todd Duke/Paul Sanchez tune, “Don’t Smoke Around Suzie,” easily this set’s strongest number. He kills funny, angular couplets like, “You can huff glue ’til you’re comatose / eat fried chicken and Oreos you can clog your arteries ’til you stop your heart / but smokin’ ’round Suzie will tear you apart.”
For support the pair took no chances, booking top shelf trumpeter Leroy Jones, who began music as a teenager with Danny Barker and went on to star with Harry Connick, Jr.’s band. His horn’s dance with Boutte’s vocals on “Call Me Superstitious,” is a highlight. Boutte’s longtime guitar player Todd Duke and bassist Peter Harris complete the quintet.
The missteps here are not fatal. Whether the world, let alone Louisiana needs another stab at an iconic New Orleans song like the title cut, one that piles on the well-worn NOLA clichés while encouraging listeners to “brings your greens” to the town “where the good times roll,” is debatable. And it’s easy to understand how “Be a Threadhead,” an advertisement for the non-profit label putting out the record made the cut, but it’s still a sop.
But those quibbles aside, the connection between Boutte 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.