Two vastly different CDs pay homage to superstar singer and a part of P.E.I. history
Iconic New Orleans singer, composer and keyboard player Dr. John has chosen to follow up Locked Down, his 2013 Grammy Award-winning blues album, with a tribute to another artist from the Crescent City who made good, the late, great Louie Armstrong.
Aided and abetted by a select group of guest artists, several of whom also have deep roots in New Orleans and environs, Dr. John has pulled together 10 tracks drawn from throughout Armstrong’s career and given them new life with a little twist here, a little turn there and a whole lot of love.
That love is clearly reflected in the title of the album, Ske-Dat-De-Dat...The Spirit Of Satch.
The title alone sold me on the record.
It conjures up visions of smoke-filled bars in New Orleans’ French Quarter where some of the best jazz in the world can still be heard today, albeit without the smoke. Been there. Heard it. Loved it.
I cracked this record with high expectations. I was not disappointed.
Some of the tracks here — I’ve Got the World on a String, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen, When You’re Smiling — are classics, but Dr. John didn’t just go with the songs that everybody knows. He also went with some of the lesser-known pieces from Armstrong’s songbook, pieces like Sweet Hunk ‘O Trash.
“The whole thing felt pretty special, and I definitely was in a different zone for this record,” Dr. John said in a recent interview.
“I wanted to pull together some of his hits and some of the songs he wasn’t as well known for, and make them feel fresh and different.”
He accomplished that.
Although he only met Armstrong once, it’s obvious Dr. John drew a great deal of inspiration from his music.
I believe he was the perfect choice to record a tribute to Armstrong because they were both nurtured by the same rich musical environment.
That he put heart and soul into the making of this record should be clear to anyone who hears it.
Sure, he has taken liberties with some of the material here, but he never took any of the material anywhere it wasn’t ready to go.
There are many highlights on this record, but I’ll go with four, starting with his duet with Bonnie Raitt on the opening track, I’ve Got The World On A String.
Other highlights include Anthony Hamilton’s soulful take on Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, the gospel-like take on Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen by Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters and a cover of Sweet Hunk O’ Trash that features Shemekia Copeland.
Hearing The Blind Boys of Alabama on Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams also sends me over the top.
Produced by Dr. John and Sarah Morrow, Ske-Dat-De-Dat...The Spirit Of Satch is a fitting tribute to Armstrong, who wove his magic for more than five decades.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
A piece of history
In 2009, The Old Stock, a play about black history in P.E.I. created by Ron Irving, Harry Baglole and Scott Parsons premiered at the Carrefour Theatre in Charlottetown.
Featured in that production were a number of songs written by Parsons documenting the lives of black Islanders, which Parsons performed as a character named Anansi.
The show was well received and the music applauded.
That music has now found its way onto a CD, thanks in part to funding from P.E.I. 2014.
The Old Stock: Songs of Black History from Prince Edward Island, features nine Parsons originals, seven of which were written expressly for the play.
Those who’ve followed Parsons career, even if they didn’t see the play, will recognize some of the songs on the record, in particular two songs that have been part of Parsons’ live shows for some time, the folk/blues gem Jupiter Wise and one of my favourite reggae pieces, What I Am.
The lives of the real life characters Parsons brought to life through song are full of sad and tragic events, like the two brothers in One Spanish Dollar who were hanged for petty theft in 1815 or the child in The Sheppard Accident who died when a horse fell on him while transporting wood home.
But Parsons documents some brighter moments as well, like the success of two brothers who hit it big during the Klondike gold rush and shared their good fortune with friends and family on the Island.
The lyrics were based on historical research, much of it culled from Jim Hornby’s 1992 book Black Islanders. The music is a mix of folk, country, blues and reggae.
There are some fine moments on this set, which documents a part of Island history many Islanders have very little knowledge about.
Parsons played guitar and bass on the record. He was backed up by fiddler Richard Wood, flautist Nancy Clement, harmonica player Jesse Ray Jenkins, accordion player Kevin Labchuk, trumpet player Neil Knudson and mandolin player Jim Hornby.
Bonnie LeClair and Leona Carmichael provided backing vocals.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column for The Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at email@example.com or 902-629-6000, ext. 6057.