New Orleans Suspects: Caught Live at the Maple Leaf (Independent)

New Orleans Suspects, Caught Live at the Maple Leaf, album cover

Sometimes it helps to cut right to the chase: The New Orleans Suspects are above all a live band, so they didn’t wait long (less than a year after their studio debut) to make a live album. One glance at the band personnel (with familiar names from the Nevilles, the Radiators and Dirty Dozen) and the tracklist (time-honored tunes from Professor Longhair, the Meters, Earl King and James Booker, most in versions that approach ten minutes) will tell you exactly what you’re in for: a classic-model New Orleans jam album. And that ain’t a bad thing at all.

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Breathing new life into “Tipitina” and “Big Chief” is a tall order at this point, but the band is still new enough that the chemistry sounds fresh—and the players are good enough that the extended solos feel like a plus. Keyboardist CR Gruver and guitarist Jake Eckert get their turn to shine on the former tune; saxman Jeff Watkins and drummer Mean Willie Green step out on the latter. True to his form in the Radiators, bassist Reggie Scanlan barely steps out at all, but you’d miss his economically fluid parts if they weren’t there.

The more creative choices work best. “Country Side of Life” isn’t the local-classic Robert Parker tune, but a joyful bit of ’70s Southern rock done by Wet Willie. Bobby Charles’ “All the Money” was a highlight of the Suspects’ studio debut and it works again here, though curiously, the original line “He got all the reefer” is now replaced by “…all the answers”—Talk about losing some easy applause. And they do their best arranging on the old Traffic instrumental “”Glad,” funkifying the upbeat first half and turning the spacey second half into a rhumba. It’s not totally faithful to Traffic’s version, but it’s true to the mood of the title.