As I’m one of the many who were born lucky enough to be able to call Louisiana our birthplace and childhood stomping grounds, the music of Bob French is as much a part of my heritage as was my grandmother’s gumbo. How could he be other? When he's a musician that took drumming lessons from Louis Barbarin and played in an R&B band during his high school years that included such musical talents as James Booker, Art Neville, Charles Neville, Kidd Jordan, and Alvin Batiste… how could he not be someone that would embrace the music of Louisiana and add to it a few spices of his own design?
Simply put, the man was born to play music. It is with no small murmur of appreciation to the heavens above, naturally, that I strive to live up to being simply born to enjoy listening to music.
It’s hard work, I tell you!
For example, the fact that I’ve had to endure listening to a recently released CD that celebrates the music of Mr. French is just excruciating hard work. When you have to open the packaging, place the disc in your stereo, and stand there and endlessly hit repeat as you sit at your desk and tap your feet to rhythms and chords that take you back to memories of days spent laughing and playing in the middle of seemingly endless rows of sugar cane — well, I’m sure you understand that’s it is not something easily done.
Oh, who am I kidding? Sitting here and listening to the Marsalis Music’s Marsalis Music Honors Bob French with only the price of having to sit down and write out a review of said album, has been a delightfully easy job. When an album opens up with a track entitled “Bourbon Street Parade” that entices you to head down to New Orleans, Louisiana, using as bait some of the more timeless jazz motifs that you’re ever liable to hear in this lifetime, it’s fair to say I’m going to have no trouble telling you to go out and buy this album immediately.
Seriously; go buy the album.
Lest you think that this is some random and canned tribute album that was slapped together only to make people pay attention to the Marsalis family’s new record label, all you have to know is that Bob French was very involved in the process. Instead of a tribute album, when you get right down to the brass tacks of it, Mr. French and the small troop of very talented musicians which perform alongside him, have crafted perhaps one of the best albums in Mr. French’s career.
Who are the other musicians? Filling out the sound after Mr. French’s drumming and vocal performances, you have Troy Andrews (trombone), Leonard Brown (trumpet), Harry Connick, Jr. (piano), Edward Huntington (banjo), Branford Marsalis (saxophone), Chris Severin (bass), and the ever-lovely Ellen Smith (vocals).
Playing as if they’ve always played together, Bob and Co. follow the album’s opening track with ten more songs that not only sing the joys of New Orleans, but also the love that New Orleans has for Bob French. One listen to their performance of Bob’s well-known version of “You Are My Sunshine,” and you can simply hear the affection and admiration everyone has for him.
Even though I’ve babbled on and on and failed to mention each song by name and in its own turn, it certainly isn’t because they don’t deserve it. Rather, they all deserve it and I’m not sure that my limited talents as a writer are up to the task of shining the right amount of light upon them.
Whether it’s the slow sultry bounce of “Burgundy Street Blues,” the soft caress of “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South,” the heartbreaking pull in Ellen Smith’s voice as she plaintively asks “Do You Know What It Means (To Miss New Orleans,” and the absolute joy and reverential release that is to be found in the swaggering drum beat and vocals on the CD’s closing track, “When The Saints Go Marching In,” it is all part of one greater whole.
This album is nothing more or less than a lovely moment in time — a time when the City of New Orleans can hold its head up for a while from all the hard work that is continually ongoing in the seemingly never-ending wake of Katrina — and dance and sing along with one of its treasures; a snapshot, if you will. Yes. That’ll work nicely, I think. In the end, this album is a sonic Polaroid of the music of Bob French and the City he loves.
The city those of us who will always identify ourselves as “Louisianians,” though we may move on to other states for much of our lives, love as well… the city of New Orleans.
… Okay. I may have gotten carried away, but it’s my review and I’m allowed.