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by George de Stefano

5 Jun 2014


New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Jelly Roll Morton, Isidore “Tuts” Washington, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Allen Toussaint, Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack, Henry Butler—and those are just some of the best-known keyboard masters. All the great players have distinctive, individual styles, but there are traits they share, and that characterize the New Orleans sound. Deep roots in in the blues, gospel, and jazz, of course. But since New Orleans is a multicultural port city that has had a long association with Latin America and the Caribbean Sea, its pianists were exposed to, and have assimilated, idioms other than African-American. They’ll play syncopated bass lines derived from boogie-woogie, the blues, and stride. But they also incorporate rhythmic and melodic influences from Cuban rumba and habanera – the “Spanish tinge”, as Jelly Roll Morton famously, but inaccurately, called it.

As they pump out bass patterns with the left hand, the right hand unfurls melodic flourishes and cascading rolls. That mixture produces a sound that is immediately recognizable as originating in the Crescent City—funky and driving, yet easy rolling and relaxed. Think of the second-line dancers following the band at a New Orleans parade or funeral procession: Everything they do is funky, but they do it with unhurried grace and style.

The following list comprises ten standout performances by New Orleans pianists, past and present, plus a lagniappe, as they say in NOLA – a little something extra.

by Mike Noren

29 May 2014

Photo by
Craig McNab

Recorded for $60 in an island country near the bottom of the globe, the debut single by New Zealand’s the Clean was an unlikely candidate to be an international game-changer. A heap of jagged edges and jittery hooks, pushed along by a screechy Farfisa organ and shouts of “Tally Ho”, the song seems to revel in the joys of music-making with little regard for who’s listening. Still, listeners began to take notice, and the 1981 release of “Tally Ho” would in time be regarded as a milestone—not just as the opening blast of the Clean’s legendary run, but also as a defining early moment for Roger Shepherd’s Flying Nun Records. A fledgling indie label at the time, Flying Nun would soon be the creative hub for one of the world’s most influential underground music scenes.

by Andy Belt

21 May 2014


Twenty years ago, Weezer released its unassuming self-titled debut. Like its iconic and eponymous album cover, the “Blue Album” was unforgettable. The record combines growing pains, geek culture, and a girl who looks like Mary Tyler Moore into one life-changing musical experience. All that time the members spent in the garage perfecting their power-pop hooks paid off, as Weezer reminded us again why it was hip to be square. The band went on to be a driving force in the Alt-Nation and nerd-rock movements while influencing countless bands to write their own stupid songs, stupid words, and love every one.

Weezer has undoubtedly divided its fans as its career has progressed. The “Blue Album” and moody masterpiece Pinkerton (1996) are widely regarded as rock milestones, while most of the group’s later work has met with mixed results. In my opinion, Weezer fans everywhere are doing themselves a disservice by writing the quartet off after 1996. With each release, the band has cranked out memorable tunes that stick with you even when the records are uneven.

by Brice Ezell

14 May 2014


Michael Gira was not making a mere semantic distinction when, following the announcements in 2010 that Swans would be coming out with a new album, he insisted that the group convened to make My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky would be a reconstitution, not a reunion. To those diehard fans of the innovative rock outfit that waited 14 years following 1996’s Soundtracks for the Blind, Gira’s words were—and still are—appropriately sage. While there are characteristics of what might be called “Swans 1.0” that remain in “Swans 2.0”—namely punishing walls of sound, expansive track lengths, and grim subject matter—the music Gira and his band of volume torturers have been making since Rope to the Sky is of a class all its own.

by AJ Ramirez

24 Apr 2014


Nowadays, two of 1994’s main music-related events are symbolically inextricably linked: the death of Kurt Cobain and the rise of Britpop. Never mind that Pearl Jam and the other grunge bands continued to make records and sell millions for years following Cobain’s suicide—the myth that has arisen around the Britpop era is that its laddish optimism and nostalgic tunefulness were a much-needed respite from the gloom and sludge emanating from Seattle in the early ‘90s. Surely, 1994 was the year that Britpop really started to pick up steam: Suede was trying to consolidate the success that accompanied its debut album, Oasis and Elastica received a rapturous reception when they issued their insta-classic freshman LPs, and Blur positioned itself as the standard-bearer of British rock when it put out its career-resurrecting Parklife, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week.

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