Music writer Keith Spera's favorite local CDs of 2012
Local acts – to qualify as “local” in my estimation, an artist must be based in New Orleans and play an active role in its music community (sorry, Frank Ocean) – released several dozen albums in 2012, many of them solid if not spectacular. The first time I listened to each was for professional purposes. These five are the favorites I returned to again and again for enjoyment.
1. Dr. John, “Locked Down” (Nonesuch Recordings)
Mac Rebennack’s “Locked Down,” like Allen Toussaint’s 2009 triumph “The Bright Mississippi,” is a departure for a New Orleans icon, crafted in a fresh setting, with an unfamiliar producer and musicians. In Rebennack’s case, the producer was Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, who persuaded the good doctor to play electric keyboards instead of piano. Auerbach reconnected Rebennack with the latter’s hoodoo past, conjuring the coolest, most memorable, and most widely praised Dr. John album in years.
2. Kristin Diable, “Kristin Diable & the City” (Speakeasy Records)
Kristin Diable’s voice is a formidable instrument, Dusty Springfield sass couched in Norah Jones seduction. On the crisply produced “Kristin Diable & the City,” she deploys that voice on a set of poised, mature, original Americana compositions. She and her fluent, simpatico band, the City, tease out slow-burn, sensual, ruminations on love, loss and desire. One of the city’s stars-in-waiting.
3. Jon Cleary, "Occapella" (Fhq Records)
“Occapella” is, as the “Having Fun with the Songs of Allen Toussaint” subtitle suggests, a loving re-imagining of one of the most cherished catalogs in all of New Orleans music. Playing most instruments himself, Jon Cleary, a keyboardist and singer by trade, revisits “Let’s Get Down Low” with guests Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John; stamps playful, soul-deep intonations on a nimble “Popcorn Pop Pop”; conjures an intimate, twilight “Southern Nights”; cuts loose for a solo piano rave-up on a barely recognizable “Fortune Teller”; and delivers a clever a cappella take on the title track. Cleary proved to be a capable, creative caretaker of the Toussaint canon.
4. Papa Grows Funk, "Needle in the Groove" (Independent)
For their fifth album, the members of Papa Grows Funk – keyboardist John “Papa” Gros, guitarist June Yamagishi, saxophonist Jason Mingledorff, bassist Marc Pero and drummer Jeffrey Alexander –enlisted an A-list team of producers: Allen Toussaint, Better Than Ezra bassist Tom Drummond, and Tracey Freeman, best known for his work with Harry Connick Jr. The result is a seamless, typically groove-centric, airtight collection of curt, original funk steeped in jazzy asides.
5. Hurray for the Riff Raff, "Look Out Mama" (Born to Win)
The country/folk/Americana ensemble deploys acoustic guitars, fiddle, harmonica, piano, bass and drums in support of former street singer Alynda Lee Segarra’s come-hither contralto. The track “What's Wrong With Me?” sounds like a lost slow dance beamed in from a 1962 prom. They’ve come a long way from the streets. (Fellow music writer Alison Fensterstock also made this one of her five favoritesof the year.)
Other noteworthy local releases of 2012 included the full, 39-track version of Paul Sanchez and Colman DeKay’s “Nine Lives” musical; the Revivalists’ “City of Sound”; Anders Osborne’s guitar-heavy “Black Eye Galaxy”; Theresa Andersson’s Nordic pop spin on Mardi Gras, “Street Parade”; Galactic’s future-funk spin on Mardi Gras, “Carnivale Electricos”; Little Freddie King’s latest electric blues romp, “Chasing tha Blues”; Tom McDermott & Meschiya Lake’s voice and piano duet “Live at Chickie Wah Wah”; and Eric Lindell’s latest collection of roots rock, blues ‘n’ boogie, “I Still Love You.”
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