After nearly a decade on the jam-band circuit, Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes are clearly swinging for the rafters on their latest album, 2000 Days, and not just because Kermit Ruffins alum Tracey Freeman produced it, either (along with some apparent uncredited help from Harry Connick, Jr.). A crew of classically trained jokesters who walk that uniquely NOLAesque line between funk, jam, and klezmer, the Notes are nobody’s mere goodtime band on this baker’s dozen of new tracks. Great grooves aside, there’s an emotionally overcast sky hanging like the sword of a boozy Damocles above these songs, making it the first Sketch album more suited for drinking then dancing. Most of it takes place in your head.
This new direction is most obvious, ironically, on the uptempo numbers, such as “Get Up and Out,” where little mood indigo revelations poke through the groove, or “All Out Fire,” which somehow manages to be pensive and ass-shaking at the same time. “Rhombus,” which deftly slips between funk-rock and hard reggae, seems destined to anchor their live shows, but the lyrics are a geometrical dissertation on a personality set at wrong angles to the world. The real bar burner is “On and On,” which is as resolute as it sounds, emerging as it does from an appropriately dour cello instrumental called “Desolate Wind.” Even the closing track, “We Are the Saints,” aimed squarely at fans of the Black and Gold, is more ’70s Monday Night Football theme than tailgate rock. They’ll still start your party, but Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes have never been more serious about it.