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Kermit Ruffins

Livin' A Tremé Life

(Basin Street; US: 28 Apr 2009; UK: 28 Apr 2009)

Ruffins' Ragtime

Kermit Ruffins loves two things more than anything else in the world: performing and New Orleans. Luckily for him, the two have gone hand-in-hand for Ruffins his entire life.

Born and raised in the the Big Easy, Ruffins discovered the trumpet at an early age. Growing up among many wonderful, eclectic sounds, he quickly got to work at making sure he could adequately represent the city he loves dearly by founding the Rebirth Brass Band while attending high school. Getting started at such a young age, Ruffins figured, could only help him gain notoriety and credibility as he so passionately chased his music-playing dream.

And it worked. There was only one real problem: he didn’t sing. That changed quickly, though, when he decided to start lending his voice to the music he loved. “Every trumpet player I saw was singing,” he once said. “I guess it’s because of Louis Armstrong. So I thought I’d better start singing.”

That voice, and his incredible swing-style trumpet-playing talents, have led Ruffins to a moderately successful musical career in the jazz world. Livin’ a Tremé Life is no exception, featuring New Orleans swing music at its finest, combining musical expertise with the flair that could only be found in the city Ruffins calls home.

It becomes obvious that the man is clearly at his best when he’s having fun, and that shines through like a scorching-hot summertime day in New Orleans on such tracks as “High Heel Sneakers”, “Hello Good Evening”, and Life‘s opening track, “Didn’t He Ramble”.  “Sneakers” sets you up for a fun-tastic night filled with parties, bum-shaking music, cold drinks, and dancing moves that will leave your feet hurting for the next week.  “Evening” is a wonderfully pleasant boogie where Ruffins’ smooth trumpet, with its staggering, lazy-sounding play, ensures that your time out won’t be dull. “Ramble” comes right out of an afternoon on the streets of New Orleans, displaying the best ragtime sounds Ruffins has in him, his raspy voice sounding uniquely joyous and the group vibe suggesting that a smile is a prerequisite for a spot in his band.

He even manages to impress when it’s finally time for the party to stop, too. “Good Morning New Orleans” takes a smooth jazz groove and all but promises your morning-after won’t be filled with headaches as long as this track amplifies the air. And “For The Love Of You” is an instrumental that somehow makes it acceptable to enjoy music that is best suited for an elevator; the trumpeter’s rhythm section adds a breezy Latin backdrop for Ruffins’ silk-like playing.

Only when the album reaches a bit too far into the pop world does it suffer. Ruffins’ take on “I Can See Clearly Now” is mostly unneeded and seems a bit too watered-down to be natural. And though “Song For My Father” certainly has its good intentions, the track as a whole seems to lack an impalpable sense of feeling—which is odd, considering the personal connection the trumpeter is clearly going for with this track.

But Ruffins—nor his father—should worry, for the rest of Livin’ a Tremé Life more than picks up the slack for the few miscues the New Orleans native stumbles upon throughout the record. Plastered with Big Easy flair, inspired trumpet playing, feel-good grooves, and an approach that wraps the entire city of New Orleans into one little record, Livin’ A Tremé Life is certainly an album that should make any father proud.


Colin McGuire is a columnist and a Music Reviews Editor here at PopMatters, as well as an award-winning blogger and copy editor for the Frederick News-Post in Frederick, Maryland. He has worked in newspapers for five years, writing columns, editing stories and trying to make sure the medium doesn't completely fall off the Earth anytime soon. You can follow him on Twitter @colinpadraic.

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