City That Care Forgot
Dr. John and the Lower 911
Is it possible to tiptoe through hurricane season these days without thinking of New Orleans? Katrina and its aftermath are certainly still on Dr. John’s mind, and the singer has finally (after a quick benefit EP recorded in the disaster’s wake) gotten around to responding on record. City That Care Forgot (429 Records) is as good an album of originals as Mr. Rebennack has made in years, but old fans who’ve heard advance raves shouldn’t get their hopes up too high.
Was it too much to dream that, when our government’s disgraceful ineptitude gave Dr. John reason to put down his Ellington and Mercer songbooks and pen some political songs, he’d pair those bitter lyrics with music that sounded genuinely angry? Sure, it’s been four decades since Gris Gris, but a man once so convincingly marinated in voodoo should still be able to lay down a convincing curse on the Bush Administration. Instead, we get all-pro grooves and regional funk that can only occasionally be described as “dark” or “spooky,” and never come close to menace; though he mocks “Promises, Promises” and blames “Cheney an’ Halliburtin’” for vanished wetlands, the Doc’s production is too polished for wounds so raw.
Can You Deal With It?
Andre Williams & The New Orleans Hellhounds
If I could ever get that federal grant to fund my research in musical genetic engineering, I’d splice City’s code with that of another recent New Orleans-recorded LP, Can You Deal With It?, by Andre Williams (Bloodshot). ’Cause while Williams doesn’t appear to have a political thought in his head, his sound — abetted here by the mysterio organist Quintron and members of the Morning 40 Federation — smells like sweat and would probably draw complaints if played in your neighborhood chain coffeeshop.
Williams, a septuagenarian R&B cult star whose compositions include “Bacon Fat” and “Jail Bait,” would never admit to needing Viagra; the album’s raunch is consistent enough that, should Hustler follow Paste’s lead and start stapling CDs into each issue, any track here would merit inclusion. There’s phone sex on “Hear Ya Dance,” gossip about a wayward child on “Pray for You Daughter,” and a warning of jealous rage potent enough to inspire murder on “If You Leave Me.” (Something in Mike Andrepont’s cymbal-bashing on that last tune convinces you the threat’s not made in jest.)
Bits of Loverly (Blue Note) were recorded in N.O. as well, but onetime resident Cassandra Wilson could have made this latest record (unlike some previous, deeply humid Southern ones) anywhere on Earth. Here, polish is not a disappointment but an appropriate setting for one of the singer’s most conventional outings. That’s not to say it’s all played straight: Pianist Jason Moran and Afro-Cuban percussion make Wilson’s “Caravan” fresher than the ubiquitous tune should be, and the original song “Arere” swings enough to wake you up after sweetly slow show tunes like “’Til There Was You.” But by and large, this is one you can play for mom — letting its surface prettiness set the hook while you sneak off to toss her Josh Groban discs in the trash.
Strugglers / Hard Times Are in Fashion
Completely unrelated to New Orleans (though hardly uncritical of still-President Bush) is the music of Koufax, who will tour through Austin’s Mohawk on August 12. I’d love to suggest readers hustle out to buy the band’s Strugglers (Doghouse), which starts with skronky Morphine allusions on “Any Moment Now,” and works through the Cure-ish “Drivers” and a half-dozen other disparately influenced but equally catchy tunes — but it turns out the record won’t be in stores until September 23.
Better, then, to point to the earlier Hard Times Are in Fashion (Doghouse), which also nods to more genres than you can count but somehow holds together. Czech Republic-based bandleader Robert Suchan is American, but don’t tell his neighbors: At least two songs on Hard Times complain overtly about having to feign Canadian citizenship to avoid Euro-scorn. The ruse probably isn’t hard, as Suchan’s chameleon-like qualities inspire enough critical comparisons to make Zelig’s head spin: Rolling Stone thinks he sounds like Morrissey; the All Music Guide all but calls the group a Walkmen rip-off; others take the presence of a piano as a cue for Ben Folds Five references. For my part, let’s just say I’ve listened to both CDs a dozen-ish times and don’t mind that I can’t yet get a handle on the band’s mix-and-match but always effusive indie-pop. •