Lilli Lewis Project, We Belong (Louisiana Red Hot Records)

As a solo act, Lilli Lewis referred to her style as orange music, meant to distinguish it from blues proper. It made sense, too: her version of the folk blues comes from a nurturing, Earth Mother-type perspective, not that of a sassy Delta diva, and from that stance, combined with the folk tradition, her gift for interpretation, a generally positive outlook, a firm moral certitude, and definite jazz filigrees, orange music was born.

So what happens now that she actually forms a jazz combo? How does this mood indigo affect her natural hue? Well, it’s more about what you don’t expect: there are no long workouts with everyone trading the spotlight, nor are there any attempts at full free-jazz band improv. The new setup really does seem to be about adding splashes of color—on “Coretta’s Song,” which by its very arrangement conjures the spirit of the slain civil rights leader’s wife, guest Dr. Michael White’s clarinet and Kirk Joseph’s sousaphone give a sepia tone tint of trad-jazz dirge to her lament, like period costumes, while the opener “We Belong” matches Lewis’ own moody piano break with Smokey Brown’s guitar and a pensive bass line by the project’s real MVP, local mainstay Dr. Jimbo Walsh. And Joseph pairs up with Glen David Andrews’ trombone to add just a delicate touch of ska to Lewis’ righteous, easy-skanking “When the Rain Comes In.” (Delicate ska? That’s just how light their touch is.)

That apocalyptic warning, however, sets up a midpoint shift in tone that plays out to the very end: the calming triptych of “Kisses,” “Warm and Gentle People” and “Beauty Beyond Reason” are glorious soundscapes that perfectly delineate the LP’s stated goal of “radical decency”: physical intimacy, community, and a dedication
to preserving innocence. That having been said, you don’t need to feel her gentle pan-cultural righteousness in order to appre-ciate her sonic palette: a pair of ears and an open mind will do. It’s the kind of experience that challenges you not to accept the artist so much as your own self.