NEW ORLEANS FUNK VOLUME 4-VOODOO FIRE IN NEW ORLEANS 1951-77.

NEW ORLEANS FUNK VOLUME 4-VOODOO FIRE IN NEW ORLEANS 1951-77.

New Orleans has a rich musical history. That has been the case for the past hundred years. It still is today. Especially when late February comes around. Each year, the people of New Orleans celebrate Marid Gras. For this famous Festival, the Big Easy, and its people are transformed.

During Mardi Gras, New Orleans comes together, and celebrates  a festival that first took place in 1718. People take to floats, dressed in costumes and masks, and adorned with beads. Float riders throw trinkets to the crowd. Meanwhile, tourists have flocked from far and wide to experience the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras.

Bourbon Street, one if the Big Easy’s best known streets is full  of tourists enjoying a taste of Mardi Gras. They enjoy the local delicacies of beignets, gumbo, jambalaya and po boy sandwiches. Meanwhile, music fills the air of one of America’s musical capitals. 

The soundtrack for the evening represents New Orleans’ musical past.There is Dixieland jazz, R&B, funk, Zydeco, Afro Cuban and the sound of the Big Easy’s brass bands. They are all part and parcel of New Orleans’ rich musical heritage. Tourists are seduced by this heady brew of musical genres. This is the real sound of New Orleans. It also features on New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77, which was recently released by Soul Jazz Records.

New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77 features eighteen tracks, from some familiar faces, old friends and new names. This includes Eldridge Holmes, Gus ‘The Groove’ Lewis, Chocolate Milk, Lou Johnson, Norma Jean, Johnny Adams, Clifton Chenier and His Red Hot Louisiana Band, Eddie Bo, Betty Harris and Zilla Mayes. While ostensibly a funk compilation, New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77 features some soulful sides recorded in the Big Easy. Funky and soulful describes the music that can be found on New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77. However, what are the highlights of this latest addition ti the New Orleans Funk series?

Eldridge Holmes’ Pop, Popcorn Children opens New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77. It was penned by Eldridge Holmes, and produced by Marshall E. Sehorn and Allen Toussaint. He was one of the most influential men in New Orleans’ music. Not only did Allen Toussaint enjoy a successful solo career, but worked as a songwriter, producer and owned several record labels. Alas, when Pop, Popcorn Children was released as a single on Atco in July 1969 it failed commercially. That is despite being three memorable minutes of soulful funk, where Eldridge Holmes seems to pay homage to the self-styled Godfather of Funk, James Brown.

When Dave Bartholomew released The Shufflin’ Fox as a single on Imperial in April 1957, little did he know that he had just made musical history. Hidden away on the B-Side was The Monkey. This was one of the earliest examples of New Orleans’ funk. Further generations of artists would develop New Orleans funk, but it was Dave Bartholomew that laid its foundations.

Initially, Chocolate Milk were formed in 1974 in Memphis by Amadee Castenell. Despite its rich musical heritage, Chocolate Milk decided to move to the Big Easy, where they became Allen Toussaint’s studio band. By June 1975, Chocolate Milk had released their debut single, Actions Speak Louder Than Words on RCA Victor. It was penned by the band and produced by Allen Toussaint and Marshall Sehorn. Slow, soulful and uber funky, Actions Speak Louder Than Words gave Chocolate Milk their first hit single. This was just the start of the Chocolate Milk story. Later, in 1975, they released their debut album, Actions Speak Louder Than Words. Five further albums and followed from Chocolate Milk. However, Actions Speak Louder Than Words was the start of the Chocolate Milk story.

Lou Johnson met Allen Toussaint as the seventies dawned. With Lou Johnson between labels, Allen Toussaint offered to produce his next album. So Cosimo Matassa’s Jazz City Studios was booked. That was where they recorded ten songs, including Frisco Here I Come, which Allen Toussaint wrote, arranged and co-produced with Marshall E. Sehorn. Once the album was completed, it became With You In Mind. It was leased to Volt Records, who released Frisco Here I Come as a single in March 1971. It’s Lou Johnson at his finest, as he delivers a needy vocal full of hurt, against a funky, soulful and sometimes rocky backdrop. Sadly, despite its quality Frisco Here I Come failed to find the audience it deserved.

Orbitone Records was a short-lived label based in the Big Easy that only ever released two singles by David Robinson. This included his cover of Edwin J. Bocage’s I’m A Carpenter (Part 1). It was produced by its writer Eddie Bom with Harvey Nero. They’re responsible for what is, without doubt one of the funkiest sides on the compilation. The studio band lay down a smoking slice of funk while David Robinson vocal become a vamp, complete with whoops and hollers. Again there is a brief nod to James Brown. However, unlike James Brown and the many vocalists who modelled themselves on him, I’m A Carpenter (Part 1) doesn’t sound cliched.

Johnny Adams released Release Me as a single on the Watch label in 1968. It reached eighty-two in the US Billboard 100 and thirty-four in the US R&B charts. Anyone who bought the single, and flipped over to the B-Side was in for a veritable musical feast, You Make A New Man Out Of Me. It’s glorious and joyous mixture of funk and soul with Johnny Adams giving thanks that You Make A New Man Out Of Me.

Zydeco is just one of the many musical genres that are part of the soundtrack to New Orleans. One of the finest practitioners of zydeco are Clifton Chenier And His Red Hot Louisiana Band. Their contribution to New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77 is Party Down. A version of Party Down features on their 1978 eponymous album. It was released on Arhoolie Records and finds Clifton Chenier And His Red Hot Louisiana Band fusing zydeco and Louisiana blues. This is a potent and heady brew, and is just one reason why Clifton Chenier And His Red Hot Louisiana Band were nominated for a Grammy Award.

Musically, Eddie Bo was a jack of all trades. He wrote, arranged and produced his 1969 single Can You Handle It. It was then released on Bo-Sound, which was Eddie Bo’s own label. Bo-Sound released mostly singles between 1969 and 1980. The majority of the releases were Eddie Bo’s own singles, and two albums. One of Bo-Sound’s finest releases was Can You Handle It which he released in 1969. It’s a reminder of the multitalented New Orleans’ soul man.

Recently, Soul Jazz Records released a compilation of Betty Harris’ music, The Lost Queen Of New Orleans Soul. It features many of Betty Harris’ finest moments, including I’m Gonna Git Ya. This was the B-Side to Can’t Last Much Longer, which was released as a single in September 1967. I’m Gonna Git Ya was penned and co-produced by Allen Toussaint with Marshall E. Sehorn, and released on their Tou-Sea label. It’s without doubt one of the finest songs that Betty Harris recorded during her all too brief career. Thankfully, the release of The Lost Queen Of New Orleans Soul shines the spotlight once again, on one of soul music’s best kept secrets, Betty Harris.

Closing New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77 is Zilla Mayes’ All I Want Is You, which is another Allen Toussaint composition. It was the B-Side to I Love You Still, which was released as a single on the Tou-Sea label in February 1969. This was a label owned by Allen Toussaint with Marshall E. Sehor. They also co-produced the single. Zilla Mayes unleashes an impassioned vocal powerhouse, that breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. In doing so, it’s sure to stop the listener in their tracks.

The same can be said of New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77. It’s a very welcome addition the Soul Jazz Records’ lovingly curated New Orleans Funk series. This is the first volume in three years. Soul Jazz Records it seems, prefer quality rather than quantity. That is obvious just by looking at the choices of music and the lengthy and detailed sleeve notes. 

Rather than choosing well known and familiar songs, Soul Jazz Records have eschewed many of the oft chosen song and dug deeper. They’ve chosen B-Sides and little known recordings, and added this to a selection of songs from some of the Big Easy’s well known names. Among them, are Dave Bartholomew, Johnny Adams and Eddie Bo. They join Chocolate Milk and Lou Johnson, who both worked with Allen Toussaint. He was one of the biggest names in New Orleans music between 1951 and 1977, which the compilation covers. 

During that period, funk had been born and grown to become one of the most popular genres. However, eventually, funk fell from grace, and by the early seventies, it was no longer as popular as it had once been. This affected the New Orleans musical economy. Cosimo Matassa’s business was badly affected, and went into liquidation. Others survived, and lived to tell the tale. Among them, were Allen Toussaint and Marshall E. Sehorn who sold their labels in the late sixties. They knew that like any bubble, the funk bubble was about to burst. 

Despite bursting in the early seventies, New Orleans Funk is as popular as ever. Compilations like New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77, just like the three previous volumes, are the perfect introduction to this sub-genre. These lovingly curated compilations feature familiar funky and sometimes soulful songs. They’re augmented by a few hidden gems, that are part of New Orleans’ musical heritage.  

It’s a musical heritage that goes back to the eighteenth century. Then in the 1950s, music become an important part of New Orleans’ economy. As the sixties dawned, The Big Easy’s musical economy grew. A whole host of new labels sprung up, including some of the labels that feature on New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77. The myriad of musical delights that can be found on New Orleans Funk Volume 4-Voodoo Fire In New Orleans 1951-77, may even provide the soundtrack to an evening on Bourbon Street during the Marid Gras.

NEW ORLEANS FUNK VOLUME 4-VOODOO FIRE IN NEW ORLEANS 1951-77.

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