If one song could encompass everything great about New Orleans music… Well, it would have to be a really long song. “9th Ward Blues,” which closes King James & the Special Men’s mini-album, is plenty long and plenty wild: It starts out as a cross of Indian chants with punk rock (the main riff isn’t far from the Stooges’ “1969”) then erupts into a brass band jam that enters free-flowing Sun Ra territory before it’s through. You have to be in the right frame of mind to take in all 14 minutes—i.e., not sitting down at a computer writing about it—but this is one exhausting performance.
The rest of the disc is closer to the band’s trademark sound—shorter tunes steeped in vintage New Orleans R&B—and every bit as raucous. Despite the band’s repertoire of lost 45s, everything here was written by frontman Jimmy Horn, but most of them could pass for obscure nuggets: “Eat That Chicken” may be a sexual innuendo, or it may really be about food—as everybody knows, those two things are equally worthy of a song. The two slower, bluesier tracks are fine, but it’s the livelier R&B that the band really nails (check the secret-agent break on “Special Man Boogie”), and where Horn gets the most gravel in his mighty voice. It all seems to come from an alternate universe where Ernie K-Doe is God—but yes, we realize that he already was.