Mitch Woods, “A Tip of the Hat to Fats” (The Orchard / Blind Pig)

mitch-woodsThis may be the first Fats Domino tribute album to have no original Domino songs on it. Only three of the tracks here are Fats-associated, and those are all songs he covered (Bobby Charles’ “Walking to New Orleans,” Dave Bartholomew’s “Blue Monday,” and Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya”). What we’ve really got here is a bunch of first-class players, including a couple Domino band veterans, working out on cornerstone R&B material, plus a couple of leader Mitch Woods’ originals (one of which is a Professor Longhair tribute that rolls many of his trademark licks into one tune). It’s a straight-up recording of their set at the Jazz Fest last year, including a bunch of stage patter (indexed on separate tracks) that you won’t need to hear more than once.

But there’s a celebratory Jazz Fest ambiance that feeds into the band’s performances—it was opening day at the blues tent and it feels that way. The sax section (with the Dirty Dozen’s Roger Lewis and a pair of Toussaint mainstays, Amadee Castenell and Breeze Cayolle) gets to trade off some tasty solos on “Blue Monday” and guitarist John Fohl makes the most of the two quick solos he gets, particularly one on “Crawfishin’” that evokes and expands on the original Clarence Garlow record. The rhythm section of Cornell Williams (Jon Cleary) and Terence Higgins (Dirty Dozen, etc.), though usually known for funkier stuff, plugs seamlessly into Woods’ vintage groove. Woods’ authoritative playing keeps it all running smoothly, and even he avoids soloing at length until the finale, “House of Blue Lights,” where he takes off as the audience’s handclaps drive him along. No great surprises here—if the songs aren’t familiar, the grooves will be—but you don’t often hear them from a band this good.