Living in New Orleans one has regular opportunities to meet international players making a pilgrimage. Some visit to slip in the scene for a while and cop a gig if they can; others come to record with the locals; the New Orleans music brand is strong.
Category A includes Bob Malone. Talent alone won’t always get you entree into the scene, and his calling card is holding down the keyboard chair in the John Fogerty Band. I first heard him at a WWOZ piano night years ago; his combination of piano skills, witty original songs and lunatic stage energy was totally winning. Mojo Deluxe is a different experience; except for the accordion-and-strings backed “Paris,” this is hard-edged rock ‘n’ roll with New Orleans flourishes (“Chinese Algebra,” the only piano instrumental, is a quirky delight). Catch Malone in whatever format you can.
Aussie Guitarist Aaron West falls into Category B. I’m not sure he did much live playing while he was here in 2014–15, but “504 Soul,” the CD he recorded here (and finished Down Under) is a bracing surprise. In a way, it’s a Jon Cleary and the Monster Gentlemen disc without Jon. The gents—Jellybean Alexander on drums, Cornell Williams on bass and vocals, and Derwin “Big D” Perkins on guitar/vocals—are clearly enjoying themselves here; what a memorable rhythm section they are! Aaron’s guitar is terser than Big D’s but perfect for the music, and his vocals veer very close to Cleary’s when he feels like it. Joe Ashlar plays the keys in his own brilliant way. A horn section, presumably added back in Australia, adds spice and another layer of authenticity to the mix. Also two more keyboardists including the Kiwi Wil Sargisson, who’s startled people at three NOLA piano nights over the last 20 years. It’s an album of new songs in a retro style: 12/8 NOLA R&B, shuffles and more. 504 Soul reminded me sometimes of Roland Stone’s magnificent end-of-career CD on Orleans Records, Remember Me, and I mean that as a compliment. The Monster Gentlemen are a quite under-recorded unit: This album is worth having for that fact alone.