Little Queenie – Purple Heart
Deeva Records/XYYX Records XYYX003
12 songs – 56 minutes
Leigh “Little Queenie” Harris has been a fixture in New Orleans nightlife since the ‘70s, and this disc consists of material once thought lost, but has been rediscovered after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.
Mixing a roux of funk, blues and R&B, Little Queenie began her career with a regular house gig at the famed Tipitina’s. A petite, fun-loving and powerhouse with a distinctive, warm down home voice, she regularly shared billing with a who’s who of Crescent City royalty, including Allen Toussaint, Dr. John and The Meters for decades. Her work has been featured in Treme and several major movies, including John Sayles’ Eight Men Out, a dramatization of the Chicago Black Sox baseball scandal.
Frequently appearing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, she’s worked with Elvis Costello, Delbert McClinton and Bryan Ferry, among others, but is now living under hospice care in rural North Carolina, where she’s fighting a courageous battle against stage-four breast cancer.
Queenie’s backed here by a lineup that includes several top names on the Louisiana music scene, including guitarists Jimmy Robinson and CC Adcock, keyboard players Josh Paxton, Larry Siebert and George Rossi, percussionists Doug Belote and Doug Boudreau, bassists Sarah Brown and Chris Severin, sax player Roderick Paulin, trumpet player Bobby Campo and washboard player Alex Harris McDonald, several of whom contributed tunes to the project.
The disc opens with a new version of “My Dawlin New Orleans,” which was featured in the last scene of the debut episode of Treme. Queenie delivers a lengthy, rhythmic spoken intro that colorfully describes the Big Easy before the music builds beneath her. It’s a poly rhythmic pleaser aided by Bonerama sure to put a smile on your face.
The action slows for the slow shuffle “Whatever You Had,” the realization that the singer doesn’t love her man any longer and that it’s time for him to go. Adcock’s sultry love ballad “Come Inside” is unhurriedly delivered with a strong bayou feel before a funky acoustic cover of “Down Home Girl,” a B-side release by Alvin Robinson in 1964 and a hit for The Coasters three years later.
Queenie dips into Percy Mayfield’s catalog next for a sweet take on the stop-time pleaser, “Lost My Mind,” which is delivered from the position of a lady who’s both devil and angel and “as sweet and cruel as homemade sin” before the action heats up with the soul blues “Shoulda Kept On Walkn,” another take on having been in a relationship far too long.
Penned by Austin-based Brown, the percussive “He Knows His Way Around” finds Queenie in the role of a MILF on the hunt for a young, skillful lover. A bare-bones take on Sam Cooke classic “Lost And Lookin’” is up next with the singer basically a capella except for the beating of a drum before “Slingshots And Boomerangs,” an uptempo swamp rocker written by Adcock and featuring Queenie’s son, Alex, on washboard.
First recorded David Bowie in the ‘70s, “Stay” comes across with a New Orleans feel in a six-minute version that’s both slower and funkier than the original before “Every Time Like The First Time,” written by John Magnie of The Subdudes, and “If Ever I Cease To Love,” the ballad that’s served the Mardi Gras theme for the Rex Krewe since its first parade in 1872, bring the album to a close.
Hopefully, Purple Heart isn’t Little Queenie’s swan song. Available through Amazon and other retailers, she percolates and simmers like fine gumbo.