A nicely rounded collection of the old and new on a collection that teeters on flawed, then bounces back with high energy and deep musicianship.
New Orleans Outfit Celebrates Two Decades With Vibrant Collection
How do you celebrate 20 years of making music? If you’re the Hot 8 Brass Band, you do it in style, by making an album that celebrates the diverse range of influences that have made your band stand apart from the herd with a series of songs that do the same. In short, this is one raucous party that gets started with “What’s My Name? (Rock With the Hot 8)”, a tune that raises the roof on “Atomic Dog” like you’ve never quite heard it before. It’s jubilant and wild and thriving with a lifeblood it’s never quite had before. The same might be said for a powerful remodeling of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”, the rhythms and lyrics becoming more uplifting, more spiritual than even MG himself could have imagine.
Even when the group takes dark, sometimes disturbing material such as “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, the group plays with a mission and verve that is undeniable, each measure passing by with an urgency that makes us believe the song has never been played before, like the group is trying to get it all down in one sitting. (Or one march.) The timelessness of the song, its catalog of good times gone bad and so forth remains timeless and universal in the hands of this New Orleans unit. And that’s as it should be. Who else would know better about life lived on the edge than residents of that most fascinating city?
“Just My Imagination” is rendered as a haunting number buoyed by stupendous rhythms that accentuate the haunting qualities of the melody while “Royal Garden Blues” is quintessential New Orleans rendered with fire and authenticity. The latter especially suggests the power that this collective must wield in the live setting, the careful and thoughtful interplay between the instruments, the sensitivity and fire that the Hot 8 brings to each measure of music along the way.
Not everything fires right away or even at all. “Rasta Funk” lumbers along and lingers a little too long in the darkness that surrounds it, falling victim to its repetitious rhythms such that not even a taste of Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” can save it. “It’s Real” has exuberance but as a song doesn’t quite hold up to the better material, a fate suffered by “Take It to the House”. But those moments don’t entirely derail the record and by the time the record comes to a close with “New Orleans, After the City”, the band has won the listener over once more with music that speaks to our deeper emotions and helps elevate them.
For those unfamiliar with the Hot 8 and its rich history, this is maybe as a good place to start as any, as it encapsulates 20 years just about as well as any 11-song collection could hope to. And if any band deserves a career-spanning documentary about its life and work, it’s probably the Hot 8, a group that has survived tragedy and triumph both with equal amounts of grace each time.