Since other cities have young string bands, it would be overreaching to claim that there’s some special phenomenon taking place here as young musicians that once would have formed punk bands start retro traditional jazz bands instead. It’s just as contrary for someone in his or her late teens or early 20s to play Sydney Bechet in a Radiohead world as it was to be one chord wonders in the Pink Floyd era. The physical pleasure of swing and the clearly defined community that surrounds the music makes its appeal understandable, and the nice thing is that many of the bands are pretty good—or have good parts.
The New Orleans Moonshiners are one such band, swinging with ragged glory and good-natured energy. There are a few strong musical voices—particularly Aurora Nealand on sax—and there’s a fair amount intelligence in the song selection. “Margie” and “Didn’t He Ramble” are pretty done, but I was amused by the album’s bookends, “You Are My Sunshine” and the song remade as a dirge, “You Are My Moonshine.”
What many of these bands lack, particularly if they often play in unamplified or lightly amplified situations, are singers. On The New Orleans Moonshiners, lots of people sing, but the unison voices are shouted and off-mic, and most individual performances are thin, timid or stagey—not bad, but not convincing, and the issue becomes clearer on the one song with a real vocalist, Sarah Quintana. Trad jazz might not be a singer’s form, but without a consistent, effective one, recordings distract from the bands’ many other charms.