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John Cleary re-imagines the songs of Allen Toussaint.

Music Review: Jon Cleary – Occapella

If you are a New Orleans-based rock musician and want to record some non-original material, the music of Allen Toussaint is a good place to start.

Jon Cleary may be English-born, but New Orleans has been his physical and musical home for the past three decades. He has released five albums of his own material but now has issued a cover album of tunes by classic New Orleans songwriter Allen Toussaint titled Occapella.

He has done a number of things right with the album. First, he has selected a songwriter whose music speaks to him and fits his style and sound. Second, he was wise enough to delve a little deeper into the Toussaint catalogue and not just concentrate on his well-known songs. Third, he uses the music as a launching point rather than just copying what has been previously recorded. By doing this he recreates the material in his own image and provides some new twists and turns along the way.

Cleary is a master musician and plays almost all of the instruments on each track including guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums. Having said that, the big exception is the first track, “Let’s Get Low Down.” That track finds Cleary performing with a full band, including Dr. John on guitar who, with Bonnie Raitt, shares the vocals with him. It is an energetic track of New Orleans barrel style rock ‘n’ roll for the smoky bar late at night.

Two songs originally associated with rhythm & blues singer Lee Dorsey are highlights. The title song, “Occapella,” uses only finger snaps and hand claps to provide the beat in this creative and near a capella interpretation. “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky” is just that, as Cleary turns up the bass and settles into a smooth groove. Walter “Wolfman” Washington provides some background vocals to help fill in the sound.

Cleary has spent years on the road and in the studio as a session musician, including ten years with Bonnie Raitt. Every once in a while he has emerged with an album of his own. His newest release, Occapella, is one of his best as it is an infectious romp through the mind and music of New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint.

About David Bowling

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