New Orleans resident Michael Cerveris is an accomplished actor who has earned two Tony Awards since making his Broadway debut in 1993. His resume includes appearances in popular musicals like Assassins, Sweeney Todd, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Fun Home, along with numerous films and television series like Fringe and the New Orleans-set Treme.
Cerveris also starred in Paul Sanchez’s NINE LIVES: A Musical Witness of New Orleans, a production based on Dan Baum’s best-selling 2009 book that Cerveris was instrumental in bringing to life. On top of all that, he’s a guitarist and vocalist who has performed with alternative rock icons such as Bob Mould, The Breeders and Frank Black.
Cerveris’ latest musical project is Loose Cattle, a country band that finds him joined by Kimberly Kaye (vocals), Alex Harvey (tenor guitar), Justin Smith (fiddle), Lorenzo Wolff (bass) and Eddie Zweibeck (drums). One of their latest recordings is a country-tinged cover of the American classic “St. James Infirmary,” a tune that was popularized by Louis Armstrong’s jazz rendition in 1928.
“Though Loose Cattle is mostly a country styled band, as New Orleans residents (Kim full time and me every chance I get) we’ve been immersed in New Orleans music for years,” Cerveris says. “Kimberly [Kaye] came into practice one day and said we should see if we couldn’t find a way to merge the two and suggested ‘St. James Infirmary.’ As that song has always been a favorite of mine, I said sure and set about making an arrangement that honored the roots of the song in a way that felt true to us, too. It became a kind of funeral march that transforms into a sort of countryfied second line.”
Loose Cattle has produced a music video for their take on “St. James Infirmary,” which we’re excited to premiere today. Directed by Bart Cortright, the video follows Kaye down a lonesome country road before jumping with a lively performance at New Orleans’ famed Preservation Hall. Art direction and wardrobe design were handled by Chris Lane and Dana Embree.
“We wanted to mirror the two moods of the arrangement, but inverted them, setting the mysterious, walking tempo half on the Louisiana country roads (in Chalmette farmland of all places), then moving into Preservation Hall for the rowdier country free for all,” Cerveris explains. “My earliest visits to the Hall years ago were where I first really fell in love with New Orleans in ways I could never even describe. So Ron Rona inviting us in to film there was a real honor and a dream come true.”
“We planned to release the video a while back, but Kim fell seriously ill for a time, so we went on a bit of a hiatus,” he adds. “She’s fighting her way back to health now and Loose Cattle are starting to record and play shows again, so we’re extremely happy to be premiering the video for St James Infirmary at OffBeat.com. It’s kind of a celebration and a tribute to resilience. Something that Louisiana and New Orleans knows all about.”
Loose Cattle will play a duo show—featuring Cerveris and Kaye—this Thursday, June 8 at Chickie Wah Wah in New Orleans.