Sunday, November 1, 2020

New Orleans High Society: “New Orleans High Society” (2020) CD Review

Are you as nervous and anxious as I am? These last four years have been an unrelenting horror show, and now we are nearly at the point where we’ll learn if it is finally at an end, or if we are doomed to another four years of racism, lies, tyranny, treason, incompetence, laziness and greed. I already voted, so it’s time to take a breather and find a way to calm my nerves and raise my spirits. The self-titled debut release from New Orleans High Society is working incredibly well in that regard. On this disc, the band offers excellent renditions of some beloved standards, including “Down By The Riverside” and “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” New Orleans High Society is made up of Cleveland Donald on trumpet and vocals; David Bode on saxophone, clarinet and backing vocals; Peter Gustafson on trombone and backing vocals; Yacine Sebti on piano and vocals; Stephen Bohnstengel on bass and backing vocals; and Trenton O’Neal on drums, percussion and backing vocals.

A wonderful rendition of “Down By The Riverside” opens this album, with the drums getting things going. From the moment those drums start, I can’t help but smile. “I want to lay down my burden/Down by the riverside/And study war no more.” Cleveland Donald is on lead vocals on this track, and does a really good job. However, the instrumental sections are what really make this track something special, the band getting into it. This track is pure joy, just what you’re looking for to shake off that layer of scum that has settled upon us all this year. Remember joy? This track tells us it can be ours again. That’s followed by a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans,” this version with a delicious rhythm, its own style. This song celebrates that great city, with Cleveland Donald again on lead vocals, and features some great leads from the brass section. And meanwhile that rhythm keeps our feet moving, our hips shaking. I especially dig that work on drums toward the end. There is a cute “Cha cha cha” ending.

Then it’s time to get romantic with a seriously sexy and cool rendition of “Creole Love Song,” this track coming at you like it’s sneaking through your open window on a warm night and is going to treat you just right. Just surrender to it with a smile on your face. This track is an absolute delight, one I could listen to all night. It’s an instrumental, but the instruments are eloquent on their own. This is one of my personal favorites. That’s followed by a lively rendition of “Ice Cream,” a playful tune that taught us that the appropriate way to request ice cream was to scream for it, and now reminds us of some of the joys of being alive. Yeah, we do need reminders these days. The brass section is so full of life, I feel like they’ll leap right out of my stereo speakers and turn my apartment into Bourbon Street. Or perhaps I could jump through the speakers into the land of the music. This one has an interesting finish. Then I love that old parlor sound of the piano at the beginning of “On The Sunny Side Of The Street.” Yacine Sebti takes lead vocal duties on this one. “Leave your worries on that doorstep/Just direct your feet/To the sunny side of the street.” Well, all right, let’s do that. This is an excellent rendition, and I particularly like that section at the end.

“At The Jazz Band Ball” is like a celebration at some cool after hours club, a place where the hours actually don’t matter at all, for the place never closes, and the band never stops playing. They’re not allowed to stop, even if they get tired. I especially dig that piano part in the middle, and I love how the track gets more lively and wild as it is reaching its conclusion. I think we can all echo that shout of “Yeah!” at the end. Things get mellower with “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” a song with a gentle, romantic flavor, featuring special guest Angie Z on vocals. This is a beautiful track that takes its time establishing the mood before the vocals come in. In fact, it is more than two and a half minutes before Angie makes her entrance. She delivers a performance that is both sweet and sexy. Just listen to the way she sings the lines “My mother falls down to her knees/When it’s sleepy time down south.” And that instrumental section in the second half is wonderful, featuring some nice work on piano. Things then get cooking again with “That’s A Plenty,” one to get you shaking your bones. This is another delightful number, delivered with a certain joy. I especially love that percussion. The album then concludes with yet another of its highlights, a seriously enjoyable rendition of “Lil’ Liza Jane,” a song that I love. This track is a perfect closing number, with each of the musicians getting a chance to contribute, to celebrate. It makes you want to continue this party, to take it out into the streets.

CD Track List

  1. Down By The Riverside
  2. New Orleans
  3. Creole Love Call
  4. Ice Cream
  5. On The Sunny Side Of The Street
  6. At The Jazz Band Ball
  7. When It’s Sleep Time Down South
  8. That’s A Plenty
  9. Lil’ Liza Jane

New Orleans High Society is scheduled to be released on November 13, 2020 on 1718 Records.

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