The New Orleans-style muffalettas from Perreca’s turned our ears toward the Big Easy. Or maybe it started when Dennis played some Johnny Adams, but our annual music-in-the-mountains meeting dived deep into Crescent City funk last weekend.
For 20 years, I’ve joined more or less the same crew of music-crazed guys for a weekend at the Adirondack Mountain home of Stephen, who runs a museum exhibit design business there with his wife. We gather in the dead of winter to listen to (and obsess about) music, to talk and cross-country ski or snowshoe in the beautiful frozen woods surrounding Stephen’s place.
The core group includes Stephen; Dennis, a real estate philanthropy consultant from Northampton. Mass., and New Orleans Jazz Fest addict; and me — with sometime members Wayne, a New Hampshire school superintendent; Chuck, a Cape Cod carpenter and kitchen designer; and Wes, a preservation architect who lives in New York City and Hebron, Washington County.
It might have been adding Wes to our crew that kept us returning to New Orleans. After hearing Adams’ duet with Aaron Neville and some Solomon Burke, Wes put on the New Orleans Nightcrawlers and we never got out of there all Saturday afternoon.
Wes and partner Anne have restored a shotgun house in New Orlean’s lower Ninth Ward, a house flooded by levee breaks after Katrina, to sell to a displaced New Orleans family in a volunteer-assisted project they call a moral investment (See 5516dauphine.com). They bought the house from saxophonist Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs of the Nightcrawlers, who practiced there before The Storm.
Whether those sounds still inhabit the shotgun, they certainly livened things up at Stephen’s house in the Adirondacks. The ’Crawlers’ updated brass band rock launched us on a roll through Los Po-Boy-Citos, a Caribbean-funk New Orleans crew reflecting the influence of Latino reconstruction workers; the Rebirth Brass Band (the first music shown in the first “Treme” episode); sousaphone virtuoso Matt Perrine’s “Bayou Road Suite”; some New Orleans classics by Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton on their “Play the Blues” album where clarinetist Victor Goines stole the show from both stars; and Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue.”
We’d started listening on Friday night with the late, great Etta James and the also-departed Jackie Leven; both big-voiced singers. Then, listening to the Civil Wars, the Wilderness of Manitoba and Bon Iver made us wonder why so many younger indie bands sing so softly and tentatively. Next up, “Our New Orleans” foreshadowed Saturday’s Crescent City immersion, everybody singing out strong in that furious fundraiser.
I’d miss Peter Wolf on Saturday at The Egg, so I put on his “Midnight Souvenirs” album to unanimous acclaim. We sometimes sampled just a song or two from some albums, but we let him roll. We all laughed at an obscenely titled populist rant by Drive-By Truckers, but everybody agreed Friday night’s music peaked with TV on the Radio’s fantastic “Nine Types of Light.”
Grammy voters must have been asleep not to give this album everything. From Stephen’s fantastic speakers, this complex, funky, fiery music filled the room, our ears and imaginations; touching on many styles and sounds, deconstructing them, knocking them rudely around and Krazy Gluing them together again.
Yes, there’s snow up there. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing on Saturday revved up appetites for Perreca’s muffalettas, which set the table for Saturday afternoon’s New Orleans fest. Dinner music Saturday: Frank Vignola’s “The Frank and Joe Show” and Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Weather.” OK, the weather: Temperatures topped out at 15-20 degrees Saturday, dipped to about 10 below Saturday night — moon and stars made a great 1 a.m. show — and reached maybe 10 above on Sunday.
Saturday night’s marathon started with troubadours Tim Buckley, Phil Ochs and Tim Hardin, all deceased; then shifted from the sublime (a Hardin ballad) to the ridiculous (Jake Shimabukuro’s ukulele rip through Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” after which Wes vowed never to hear that song again). Then we hopscotched around.
Dennis played some (nonridiculous!) classics by the Happy Valley Guitar Orchestra from his Northampton hometown, including Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King.” We stayed in the classical realm with Arvo Pärt’s celestial “Tabula Rasa,” leaving everyone stunned into silence; but we never got to the Bach Orchestral Suites or Jordi Savall. Cassandra Wilson’s “If It’s Magic” and Bill Frisell’s Beatles’ cover “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” brought us back to Earth from elsewhere. Then the great New Orleans (of course) singer Irma Thomas took us back out there in duets (“Simply Grand,” beautifully produced by the great Joe Henry) with piano players including Dr. John, Marcia Ball and Norah Jones — who got her own moment with the Little Willies’ cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”
Wes got his first hearings of Lizz Wright and countered, offering the dangerously eclectic Pink Martini. With my medical history, how could I not play Raphael Saadiq’s “Heart Attack?” We also sampled Shawn Colvin, Amos Lee, Lucinda Williams, Merle Haggard, Dion, A Hawk and a Hacksaw — but never got to NRBQ in tribute to the late, great Tom Ardolino because they deserved a whole night to themselves; nor to Radiohead, Heartless Bastards, Wilco, the fantastic new Paul Simon, Ryan Adams, Keith Jarrett, the Low Anthem, the Decembrists, Tinariwen or Bill Evans.
Consensus top picks: “Simply Grand” by Irma Thomas, “Nine Types of Light” by TV on the Radio and “Tabula Rasa” by Arvo Pärt.
But we were the real winners. Listening to great sounds on a great sound system and analyzing and discussing it all reminded me of how rewarding it is to give music your full attention because of how richly the music gives back. Nothing we heard all weekend would have worked as background: It was all too assertive and too good. It also reminded me that good songs — and some good singers: Irma Thomas (67) and Solomon Burke (deceased at 70 in 2010) — stay good. And all that New Orleans music we heard on Saturday afternoon got me even more excited about heading down there for Jazz Fest in May.
WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave.) serves up two stellar shows this weekend: Montana troubadour Martha Scanlan on Friday and NYC rocker Willie Nile on Saturday.
Scanlan sings with Amy Helm of Ollabelle and her father Levon’s band, plus Ollabelle’s “he-plays-everything” guy Byron Isaacs. Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $18. Phone 465-5233 or visit www.thelinda.org.
Nile has been extraordinary in previous visits to the Linda — as he has also been everywhere else and every other time he’s played here since the late 1970s. He’s as strong and passionate, talented and committed a rock ’n’ roller as we have today. Show time is 8 p.m. Tickets are $23.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.