Tuesday, April 27, 2010
ALBUM REVIEW – TROMBONE SHORTY “Backatown”
Trombone Shorty "Backatown" - released 4/20/10 on Verve Forecast
Festivarian legend has it that Bonnaroo started as an outgrowth of New Orleans Jazz Fest’s epic after-hours jams, which may be why both present such a lively musical stew. Trombone Shorty’s new album, “Backatown,” borrows this recipe, to tasty effect.
“Backatown” struck me immediately as the kind of record Galactic would like to make, but have never managed quite as successfully. Diverse yet cohesive, this album gives the listener a musical tour of New Orleans, almost like hopping from bar to bar and hearing bits of Dixieland here; smooth Soul there; hints of Gypsy Jazz, Glitch, Punk, even Metal – all intertwined masterfully with bandleader Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ self-coined anchor sound: “Supafunkrock.”
The album opens with the cinematic instrumental, “Hurricane Season.” Is it a spy theme, a punk thrasher, or a party anthem? It actually seems to be an unlikely combination of all three. It’s a perfect track to kick off such a steadfast and varied album.
Aside from the sure-handed shifting of musical styles, this album also manages to season what could have been merely a collection of memorable instrumentals with what some might call “actual songs (which, to those people, means “tracks with lyrics”),” all with a seamless and integral journey between aesthetics, like a perfectly sequenced mixtape. Whether the credit should go to Andrews as bandleader, or Galactic’s Ben Ellman, as producer, or to both, for the album’s sheer listen-ability, I can’t say.
From the Trip-Hop twinge of the title track, through the drum and bass-inspired acid jazz of “Neph,” the fat-back funk of “In the 6th,” the sweet Soul of “Fallin’” like a serene island surrounded by adventuresome seas, to the final, traditional Dixieland rave-up of “928 Horn Jam,” this album is a rewarding listen all the way through, unless you’re expecting a straight-ahead jazz album, or a solid rock album. It’s like the everlasting gobstopper of Wonka lore – each new layer is a delightful and unexpected flavor.
The Metal-infused “Suburbia” and “The Cure” remind me of another New Orleans band – Bonerama, and perhaps laying down ominous, foreboding bass-lines is what trombones do best. Andrews is apparently equally adept at trumpet (despite his moniker), as rump-shakers like “Where Y’at” and “Quiet as Kept” readily prove. But c’mon, would you pay serious attention to someone dubbed “Trumpet Shorty?”
Recommended tracks for the casual listener: “On Your Way Down,” a funky cover which boasts a guest-appearance by the tunes’ writer, Allen Toussaint, and the Bill Withers-esque “Something Beautiful,” which features guitar and vocals by Andrews’ old boss – Lenny Kravitz.
Be sure to catch Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue if you can. They’ll be all over Jazz Fest in New Orleans, of course, and are slated to play both High Sierra and Bonnaroo this summer. After listening to “Backatown” several times, I’ve definitely bumped them up on my short list of “must-sees.”
~ Chris “Toast” Diestler
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