Ted Hefko and the Thousandaires, Gas Station Guru (Onager Records)

A veteran of the New Orleans music scene since he hopped on a Greyhound bus bound for the Crescent City from his native Wisconsin at age 18, Ted Hefko hits a mighty fine stride on his latest studio effort. A UNO Jazz Studies graduate who cut his teeth in the jazz/jam outfit Idletime in the late ’90s / early ’00s, Hefko grew from freelance saxophonist to composer and bandleader in 2009 with his first all-original album, Egyptland. Subsequent years spent in devout study and constant gigging have paid huge dividends, as Gas Station Guru reveals Hefko as adept in songcraft—from lyricism to arrangements to production quality—creating an album that’s fun, funky and fulfilling. The syncopated strut of “Two Vices” opens the record, with Hefko’s world-wise, bandleader-bravado vocals pitching the perfect inflections for lyrics of gambling, greed, the Bible and “the funny things you do” to get through this so-called life. In addition to the licks of guest guitarist Mem Shannon, Thousandaire piano man Joe Welnick provides the perfect rolls for the “I’ll be your lover/ But I won’t be your fool” closing refrain. Misty Mississippi River imagery, funky backbeats and the superb backing vocals of guests Carolyn Broussard and Arsene DeLay inform “The Roofer” and harken back to the golden age of New Orleans R&B. Recorded at the Marigny Studio and Living Room with Hefko serving as executive producer, guests join the band throughout the album. The country twang on “The Next Train” comes courtesy Cajun band T’Canaille, while pianist Sherman Bernard plies a distinct NOLA groove to “Ten Dollar Hat.” Two covers are included here: a Dixieland bop swinging of the standard “Ain’t Gonna Give You None o’ My Jellyroll” (covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Willie Nelson). A jazzy eloquence oozes through the folk masterpiece “City of New Orleans,” a tune Hefko makes his own—a parallel to his journey in making his style and adopted hometown his own.