Drummers have the most difficult time going from being sidemen to leaders. Whether you were the propulsive force of your previous band or the featured soloist, the transition to front man from behind the kit is almost always problematic. Zigaboo Modeliste, the high performance engine behind the funk limousine of the Meters, has tinkered with his identity as a leader, but appears to have arrived at a perfect medium for his solo persona with New Life.
Zig gives his fans exactly what they want from him: Meters-style grooves and songs with New Orleans-related themes. The instrumental “Ate Ball Waltz” is a great piece of Metersiana built on a catchy, climb-up riff perfectly articulated by Zig and bassist Marc Pero with percussionist Bill Summers adding that soulful clave touch. “New Life,” another Meters-style syncopation, gets even more pop from Pero and Summers, who also deliver the goods on the topical “Human Race,” a sentiment especially salient in the wake of the racist pushback organized by the Republican Party against President Barack Obama. “Holiday Kiss” is a gorgeous R&B ballad sweetened by great keyboard parts from Joe Krown and Larry Sieberth, a trio of background singers and Wardell Quezergue’s deftly arranged string section. Getting just the right touch to keep the strings from sounding saccharine is one of Quezergue’s specialties and a key reason why this song is so memorable.
The real paydirt here is the reunion of the Meters rhythm section on the intense “Keep on Groovin.” It’s not reminiscent of the Meters, but it’s Zig with George Porter, Jr. pounding away on this punchy piece of New Millennium funk. This tune is Zig’s most complete realization of an updated sound with guitarist Shane Theriot adding a searing break, Summers popping the groove, and a horn section adding terse accents. It’s the perfect touch to grace a satisfying album from one of the greatest drummers New Orleans has ever produced.