Various Artists: City of Dreams

This collection spreads piano, blues, street beats, and slippery funk over four discs that are as joyous and imperfect as the Crescent City itself.

Various Artists

City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music

Contributors: Professor Longhair, Eddie Bo, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Champion Jack Dupree, Irma Thomas, Ruth Brown, Tuts Washington, Chuck Carbo, Davell Crawford, Dirty Dozen Brass, Rebirth Brass Band
Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: 2007-10-22

City of Dreams gathers together some joyful and bittersweet music and anyone unfamiliar with Professor Longhair, Eddie Bo, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Champion Jack Dupree, Irma Thomas, Ruth Brown, and Tuts Washington should take a week off to remedy that situation immediately. Clarence Gatemouth Brown makes an appearance too, one foot in Texas and one in Louisiana, as always. The Golden Eagles and The Wild Magnolias show a vivid strand of New Orleans’ unique culture and there are also fine younger generation artists here such as Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, David Torkanowsky, and Davell Crawford.

The Nightcrawlers are arguably the most proficient musicians on the brass band scene, but like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band before them, Rebirth is a must-see band, magnificent when the real line-up actually hits the stage and with enough raw power and swing to drive an audience to do things in public they wouldn't do in their bedrooms with the lights out! Elsewhere, it’s nice to hear forgotten stars like Eddie Bo and Chuck Carbo again. Carbo had hits in the 1950s with the Spiders, worked in a lumber yard when gigs dried up, and then came back to record again in the early 1990s with Drawers Trouble.

Rounder claim that City of Dreams is the definite set from their roster of New Orleans artists, but there is no explaining the absence of Fats Domino (who has recorded for the label). It’s also doubly odd that the Mardi Gras song “Carnival Time”, by Al “Carnival Time” Johnson appears on the disc entitled “Big Easy Blues”; but its winter mirror-image, Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, doesn’t feature anywhere. It is perverse to give Davell Crawford three cuts to Champion Jack Dupree’s one, and to include a piece that Solomon Burke recorded in nearby Slidell is more than a stretch. Sorry, no one would include Burke on a list of New Orleans artists. The title is also almost too close for comfort to Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams album which included a couple of elegies to the Crescent City part of his childhood.

Luckily, none of these gripes matter much. This music is a slippery customer, sliding easily between church, barroom, and bedroom with little use for foolish notions of purity or accuracy. The city opts for celebration and ritual over perfection. Indeed, most literary and cinematic attempts to capture its essence merely prove the folly of putting the word “definitive” and the words “New Orleans” in the same sentence. New Orleans resists the spreading blueprint of Identiplace, USA because its own tenacious and complex African, Caribbean, and European heritage propagates unique architecture, cuisine, and music.

The Wild Magnolias

And make no mistake, the food and sounds of the Crescent City are as valuable as the buildings in the French Quarter and Garden District. Unfortunately, while a road sign welcomes drivers to “America’s Most Interesting City”, the lack of a coherent infrastructure to reward creativity means guys of the caliber of Louis Prima, Danny Barker, and Wynton Marsalis must leave to prosper. It’s no secret, either, that long before Hurricane Katrina’s arrival, local government cheerfully agreed to sell off or demolish landmarks such as the store where Louis Armstrong bought his first trumpet.

Of course, few people leave the Crescent City completely behind. The Marsalis family remains one of the bedrocks of musical life in New Orleans. After backing Billie Holiday and others, Danny Barker returned (with wife, the phenomenal Blue Lu) and his subsequent involvement with the Fairview Baptist Church mentored Wynton & his brother Branford, Leroy Jones, Dr. Michael White, Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, and Kirk Joseph. A new generation of torch-carriers. Amen to that, and to the recent efforts of James Andrews.

Professor Longhair

Anyway, of the four discs in question, “Funky New Orleans” is the least satisfying. It contains no really indispensable tracks and certainly nothing approaching the absolute genius of The Meters or Lee Dorsey. Despite his unquenchable gigging stamina, I’ve never quite “got” Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and “Ain’t No Yachts in the Ghetto” by Theryl Houseman de’Clouet seems wooden and wordy. It’s probably heresy to admit all that, but having spent 13 fascinating years in New Orleans, parroting boosterism doesn’t feel right. To hear some people tell it, not even the most minor local artist could ever release a poor record and everyone deserved an annual award. Of course, there has been far worse and far more dangerous subterfuge.

Bush stood in Jackson Square and read a speech writer's lies. He read that no one could have envisaged that the levees would break, yet many scientific reports of the last 25 years gave that precise warning. Then some people insultingly suggested the city might come back “better”, a thinly disguised code for “whiter” that provoked Mayor Ray Nagin's infamous “Chocolate City” comment. For all his failings, at least Nagin was able to make a P-Funk reference! After all the nightmares, the willful neglect, the incompetence, the ignorance and the hypocrisy, eventually the spirit of its ordinary people will lift New Orleans again, and it’s funkiness will play a part. Earl King had it right when he sang “There ain’t no city like New Orleans!”

There are some sad tunes in this collection. Both David Torkanowsky’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and Tuts Washington’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, all the more poignant in the aftermath of disaster, deftly avoid mawkishness. Mainly though, things are up-tempo and mostly groovy. It would have been cool to see John Mooney and Snooks Eaglin featured here, but their best work isn’t on Rounder. Earl King, Danny and Blue Lu Barker, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, John Boutte, The Iguanas and countless other artists aren’t here either, because they are on other labels. That’s not a criticism of Rounder, just a call to action for record buyers! Since we’re on the subject, while the brief of this set is clear, any package that claims to explore every musical style in the city had better nod to Quintron & Pussycat, Potpie, Glyn Styler, and the exiled John Sinclair.

Decades ago, William S. Burroughs called New Orleans a decaying museum in the swamps. Certainly, the city can appear more stubbornly unhurried than the Zulu parade, happier looking back than ahead, and absolute heaven for cynics. Schoolchildren wander home blowing shiny horns. Ancient trees sprawl magnificently across yards and sidewalks with their roots pushing into the potholed streets. Families cook-out on streetcar tracks on Mardi Gras day, far from the tourists in the Quarter showing their breasts for plastic beads. The encyclopedic Louisiana Music Factory store is hassled by City Hall for having free shows with free beer. Signs urge patrons to buy “Bake Chicken” and schoolchildren to “Stay Focus”. A vicious drug trade fuels an endless plague of killing. The good times roll at the Saturn bar, the Columns Hotel, Rock n Bowl, Irene’s, Angelo Brocado's, the Spellcaster lounge, Napoleon House, Bozo's, Commander’s Palace, Vaughan's and elsewhere. Young women, some with skin stretched tight as boudin, get their cocktail of HIV medicine from Charity Hospital. Mardi Gras Indian tribes awaken and illuminate blighted neighborhoods. WTUL 91.5 FM plays new stuff for those who’d escape the ever-diminishing circles of local roots culture. Strange and wonderful sounds leak from the cottage-industries at McKeown’s Books & Difficult Music, Anxious Sound, and Backporch Revolution. The air suffocates. Lovers hold hands in cemeteries. Oysters get baked. Statues of Saint Joseph are buried upside down in gardens to help sell houses. Rain washes the streets. Kids play at NOSA. People go to work and try to thrive. Gumbo bubbles. Roads follow the river, ghosts drift up Esplanade Avenue, or meet up at St Claude and Dumaine, and float on and on down Claiborne Avenue....

Or was that all a dream?


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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