New Orleans Suspects – Kaleidoscoped
Louisiana Red Hot Records
8 songs – 41 minutes
Kaleidoscoped is the fourth album from what might be called a New Orleans super group. Comprising Jake Eckert (ex-Dirty Dozen Brass Band) on guitar and vocals; “Mean” Willie Green (Neville Brothers) on drums; C.R. Gruver (Polytoxic, Outformation) on keyboards and vocals; Reggie Scanlan (The Radiators, Professor Longhair Band) on bass; and Jeff Watkins (James Brown Band, Joss Stone Band) on saxophone and vocals, the New Orleans Suspects features some of the most respected names on the Big Easy music scene. In addition, the album has stellar contributions from a number of guest musicians, including Paul Barrère and Fred Tackett (on the cover of Little Feat’s “Dixie Highway”); Golden Comanche “Big Chief” Juan Pardo; “Big Ike” Kinchen; Lee Thornburg; Ian Smith; and Paulie Cerra.
Together, the musicians have produced an effervescent musical gumbo of upbeat funk, traditional R’n’B, Louisiana swamp pop, and soul-infused rumbas, all played with mature confidence and what one senses is a winning smile.
Opening with the 70s-style funk of “Get It Started”, a simple keyboard riff is developed and filled-out by subtly contrasting instrumentation, all of which fits together like a jigsaw. By itself, each piece may not appear to be essential, but its absence would leave an obvious hole. The mighty Paulie Cerra’s wild tenor sax solo is a highlight of a song that features a number of key changes and solos for the different musicians.
There is something of a 70s vibe to many of the tracks, but this is not meant as a criticism – the best songs of that decade exhibited impressive technical virtuosity nestled within the structure and limitations of a well-crafted song. “Cocaine Jane” for example, has echoes of the Grateful Dead, in particular on Eckert’s guitar solo. The influence of Little Feat can also be clearly heard, most obviously on “Dixie Highway” (on which Gruver’s solo is a delight) but also on the vocal harmonies and even the vocal lines of “Creole Hannah”, which has more top drawer piano from Gruver and lovely slide guitar from Eckert.
The Louisiana swamp pop groove of “You Got The Fire” sees Green and Scanlan laying down an irresistible dancing rhythm. “Round Up Dem Suspects” sees Smith and Watkins nailing a horn line around which Pardo leads a vocal call and response.
The album finishes with “Neighbourhood Strut”, which includes another drumming master class from Green and more superb horns from Watkins and Smith.
This is a short album, clocking in at only 41 minutes, although the individual songs themselves tend to come in around the four or five minute mark, reflecting both the structural development within each song as well as the number of different solos on each track.
Is Kaleidoscoped a blues album? No. Is it an album of well-written funk-rock-pop songs dripping in the essence of New Orleans, all of which hark back to the best of the 1970s while still maintaining a modern edge? Yes, it is. It is also a very enjoyable album of toe-tapping party music.