Fricke's Picks: Jon Cleary, Pine Leaf Boys and Kermit Ruffins - Rolling Stone
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Fricke’s Picks: Jon Cleary, Pine Leaf Boys and Kermit Ruffins

In New Orleans, the funk always comes hard and heavy. But at the 2007 edition of the city’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, local soul men hit the classic-rock and heavy-metal songbooks with a vengeance. Singer-pianist Jon Cleary, a British native long resident in the Crescent City, salted his mix of Meters and Professor Longhair covers with vintage U.K. blues rock: Free’s “All Right Now,” rearranged as if Allen Toussaint had written it for Lee Dorsey. Trombone Shorty and his band Orleans Avenue remade AC/DC’s “Back in Black” with brass-band fury. Yet for airborne pow, there was no beating the four-trombone front line of Bonerama, which made dirty blues and swamp gas of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” and the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” with crushing ensemble riffing, human-feedback shrieks and wah-wah growls. (Co-founder Mark Mullins plays an electric horn.) Both covers are on the group’s third album, Bringing It Home ( — like the first two, taped live with no overdubs and a whole lotta mule kick — along with brass-tornado spins through the Meters and Thelonious Monk and a six-pack of originals. The results definitively answer the age-old musical question: What would Black Sabbath sound like with the P-Funk horns instead of guitarist Tony Iommi? You can hear Cleary’s take on that Free number on his new demos EP, Hotel Room Ruffs (FHQ).

The Pine Leaf Boys are a biracial Cajun band — no common thing — steeped in tradition (singer-accordionist Wilson Savoy is the son of Cajun performer-scholars Marc and Ann Savoy) but with free-range ambitions in soul, Canned Heat-style boogie, zydeco (the country funk of black Louisiana) and Mardi Gras Indian chants. They did it all — sometimes all at once — in their Jazz Fest set with the tight, headlong delight that makes Blues de Musicien (Arhoolie), their second album, the next best thing to a Saturday night dance in Lafayette.

It’s hard enough making music in New Orleans now. Getting it out is a whole other struggle. Basin Street Records, one of the city’s most prolific labels before Katrina, has finally issued its first post-flood album: Live at Vaughan’s by singer-trumpeter Kermit Ruffins made at the Ninth Ward club that has been his party central every Thursday for fifteen years. “Treme Second Line” and “Hide the Reefer” are enough to make you forget anything interrupted that run — until the hip-hop funeral march into James Brown’s “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing,” a blast of disgust at the way politicians at every level have left this city to save itself.


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