Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Suicide rate in NOLA peaks since Katrina

One of the most insidious things about the so-called "recovery" in New Orleans is the number of people who are walking around with untreated mental disorders. Boy genius Gov. Bobby Jindal's answer to this problem is to close New Orleans mental health clinics.
Read this hair-raising account in today's Times-Picayune:


Friday, September 18, 2009

More New Orleans musicians pass away

This has been a sad year for the New Orleans musicians' community and two more greats have recently passed, vocalist Juanita Brooks and multi-instrumentalist Hart McNee.

Brooks is best known for her theatrical work in the productions of "One Mo' Time," "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," and "Staggerlee," but she was a vibrant presence on the local club scene performing with a host of local stalwarts including the late Eddie Bo, George and Bob French and the Palm Court Jazz All-Stars. Her funeral was this morning and her friends will remember her with a jam session at Sweet Lorraine's.

McNee, who recently passed away after a long illness, was a resident of my neighborhood in the Bywater section of the 9th Ward. His friends will gather for second line in his memory tomorrow afternoon at 2 pm in front of his old house at 3212 Burgundy St. (between Piety and Louisa Streets). The parade will proceed up Burgundy St. to Press St, down Press to Chartres, up Chartres to Port with a stop at Sound Café. It will then head to Royal and Franklin for a refreshment stop at Mimi's and Flora Café. From there it will head up Royal, turn left on Spain, and stop at Chartres and Spain (Cake Café.) It will then continue down Spain to Decatur and up Decatur to Frenchmen Street and disband at Café Brasil.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

T. Ray and the Shades at the Landmark

It's a long way from the Mississippi delta to this remote spot on the Oregon coast, but at the Landmark Tavern in the village of Yachats, about midway down the Pacific coast of Oregon, they're keeping the blues alive.

The bar and music club is run by a former New York bureau chief for United Press International, Bruce Olson. His wife Marilyn, another former Unipresser, is in charge of the adjoining restaurant. The place is built along the edge of a cliff commanding the Yachats river estuary, a half mile of rivermouth filled with seawater at high tide but receeding to a wide, puddle filled beach when the tide goes out.

The Landmark has live music three or four nights a week, ranging from touring Louisiana musicians -- Mem Shannon, The Bluerunners, Bryan Lee, Russell Batiste and Rockin Jake have all played there -- to local blues and rock acts and higher profile blues musicians on national tours.

Over the Labor Day weekend the Landmark featured the local band T. Ray and the Shades on Friday, followed by the Chicago-based national act Studebaker John and the Hawks for two nights.

T. Ray and the Shades are young musicians just coming into their own judging from the progress made between a serviceable debut, Seize the Day (2007) and last year's much more engaging Live at Columbia Crossings. The band went over well with the Friday night crowd at the Landmark, playing a mixture of strong originals and standard covers with creative arrangements. Though Tiffany (T. Ray) Murray, the 20-something woman who fronts the band, has long, natural hair and a voice that can break into a raspy vibrato, she has clearly listened more closely to Etta James (she does a convincing version of Etta's "You Got It") than Janis Joplin. Nevertheless the band keeps a cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" in the book to satisfy the inevitable demand from the crowd to "Do Janis!"

"Some people listen with their eyes," says Tiffany, who is learning her crowd-pleasing skills as she goes along. She gives them Janis, but at a slower tempo and without the vibrato. That's only one of several clever arrangements of familiar tunes this band delivers, like the version of "Crossroads" built around a saxophone passage instead of a guitar riff and a cover of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" that completely turns the song on its head.

The band has the good sense to use Junior Wells and Jimmy Reed songs to whip up the crowd, then fills the set with originals that vaguely resemble well-known hits. You think you're listening to a re-arranged song by the Pretenders, the Pointer Sisters or Van Morrison only to hear them break into a well turned original chorus.

The Shades feature three very good soloists -- Scott Johnston, an inventive R&B saxophonist, the superb guitarist and songwriter Matt Zekala and a bassist, Niko Green, who is so good he drives the band rhythmically, leaving drummer Matt Murray to act as the timekeeper.

Zekala is a whiz with a lot of potential, but the band's future ultimately rides with T. Ray herself, whose songwriting chops and vocal intelligence could take her a long way. She has to navigate a precipitous path between being just another hippie chick leading an interesting jam band and an overemoting neo soul diva, but she can take the heat, which is a good sign. For now you can find her and her enjoyable band playing to the backdrop of giant waves crashing against the rocks of Yachats, which is not a bad place to be at all.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Evacuate or incarcerate

Texas enacted a law Tuesday that any citizen ignoring an evacuation order may be arrested. Take this notion alongside the Tom Ridge admission that homeland security alerts were manipulated for political reasons during the 2004 election (DUH!!!) and you have quite a recipe for elimination of political opposition en masse.
Reminds me of a song by my old friend Frank Zappa:
"Concentration moon
Over the camp in the valley
Concentration moon
Wish I was back in the alley..."