New Orleans holds a grip on most North Americans’ imaginations. Little wonder when you consider the fact the city is a meeting place for so many cultures. French, Spanish and African cultures all come together in an incredible mixture, making it a hot bed for the arts and other slightly more esoteric ventures. New Orleans is also known for its mixture of the sacred and the profane. Voodoo and Catholic beliefs intermingle and share equal billing on the streets and in places of worship, and spills over into the music which forms the heartbeat of the city. For you can find everything from down and dirty funk to gospel on its streets, in its bars and even in its churches.
Yet for all the famous musicians the city has produced, it’s the brass bands who parade through its streets, accompanying everything from funerals to Mardi Gras celebrations which have made the strongest impression on people’s imaginations. Lost amid the drunken revelry of the latter is the fact the festival marks the final celebration before the beginning of the Catholic period of repentance leading up to Easter, Lent. It may be a huge party for the tourists replete with sex and uninhibited behaviour, but it also shows the depth of the city’s religious and Catholic roots. The music of the bands not only reflects this history, it also helps to perpetuate it.
Listening to the latest release from Rebirth Brass Band on Basin Street Records, Move Your Body, provides a perfect example of the city’s dual nature, for they move between the bawdy and the sacred lyrically without any apparent effort or change in their approach to the music. Musically, the group’s influences are as diverse as their subject matter, drawing upon jazz, big band, funk, blues and gospel to create their sound.
The album’s opening track, “Lord, Lord, Lord, You’ve Sure Been Good to Me”, is a traditional gospel number which has been given a Rebirth makeover. The lyrics, sung by guest vocalist Glen David Andrews, give thanks to God for providing the essentials of life. “Woke me up this morning, sure been good to me/God woke me up this morning, sure been good to me/Put food on my table, sure been good to me/And I know it was the hands of the lord”. Musically, the song is a rollicking, funk-influenced tune which would bring the dead to their feet. What’s amazing is in spite of the secular sound of the tune, you don’t doubt the sincerity of the feelings behind the lyrics.
As for the band, they make us feel like they’re marching us straight into salvation with a beat and tempo that can’t be resisted. You can have no problems visualizing people dancing through the streets on their way to or from church listening to this tune. Some might not approve of this approach to religion, but to me it’s an example of how when influenced by the divine, an artist will create something that will move the human spirit, even if you don’t share their beliefs.
However, Rebirth are equally at home with the more earthy pleasures of New Orleans. While it’s a celebratory song in its own right, “HBNS” is about as far removed from gospel as you can get. “I need hot butt naked sex/I love it when you make me sweat/I need hot butt naked sex/Baby did you get my text”. Sung as a duet by Erica Falls and Quinten “Q” Spears, the song celebrates the joy of sex in both the female and male voices. Like the city itself, this song is all about sensual pleasures and finding joy in them. Unlike some people would have us believe, this song lets us know you can be religious and still enjoy sex.
Musically the disc rocks and rolls through a mixture of instrumentals (including a great cover of the old Loggins and Messina hit “Your Momma Don’t Dance”) and vocal-accompanied songs without almost a pause for breath. While normally this could be rather overwhelming, Rebirth change up the pace enough from song to song to ensure the listener’s interest never fades. They effortlessly move from funk to gospel to blues to marching band without missing a beat and carry us right along with them all the way.
Like the city they hail from, Rebirth Brass Band are fun, sexy, sleek, and have just enough edginess to their sound to hint at the feeling of underlying darkness which is so much a part of New Orleans’ make up. Hurricane Katrina may have destroyed many of its buildings and neighbourhoods, but as long as there are bands like this one, the city’s soul will live on. While it’s not like being there, Move Your Body brings a little taste of New Orleans into your home and heart.