Rounder's Mardi Gras Compilation Captures Flavor of New Orleans
There’s a chill in the air, and the sounds of the season are everywhere. Christmas, you ask? No, you’re in New Orleans, and it’s Carnival time — Meet Me at Mardi Gras. From every radio, bandstand, bar and coffee shop, the songs associated with Mardi Gras (especially perennial favorites such as Al Johnson’s “Carnival Time” and the ReBirth Brass Band anthem “Do Whatcha Wanna”) announce the month of parades and balls that will culminate with the nation’s biggest citywide party.
The 12-song set Meet Me at Mardi Gras, to be released on January 10, 2012, presents many of the best Mardi Gras songs on Rounder Records (a division of Concord Music Group), which, for decades, has been the pre-eminent label recording the music of New Orleans.
Also included are two classic songs from the Specialty catalog (Rounder’s sister label in the Concord Music Group). The album was compiled by Rounder’s Grammy-winning VP of A&R, Scott Billington.
Meet Me at Mardi Gras will serve as a suitable soundtrack for any Mardi Gras party. The Soul Rebels strike a funky note with “Say Na Hey,” a brand new song written by Leo Nocentelli, the guitarist for the crucial New Orleans funk band The Meters. In contrast, several of these songs reach back more than 50 years. Pianist Joe Liggins was not from New Orleans, but his “Goin’ Back to New Orleans” has become a standard, covered by both Dr. John and Deacon John. Larry Williams’s “Jockamo a.k.a. Iko-Iko” is a rocking version of the traditional Mardi Gras Indian chant.
Speaking of which, Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias (these tribes are African Americans who mask as outrageously plumed “Indians” on Mardi Gras and on Saint Joseph’s Day) takes the lead vocal on Professor Longhair’s timeless “Tipitina.” The Professor himself is featured on a 1960s version of his anthem “Go to the Mardi Gras” with its signature New Orleans parade beat.
While Cajun music originates in the French-speaking parishes south and west of New Orleans, you’ll often hear it in the Crescent City. “Mardi Gras Mambo,” originally recorded by Art Neville’s early band, The Hawkettes, is performed here by Cajun rocker Zachary Richard, while Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys play the minor-key “La Danse de Mardi Gras,” which you’ll hear at every Cajun dance at this time of year, for Cajuns have their own Mardi Gras.
For reasons not entirely known (but probably not difficult to decipher!), Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham’s “Meet Me With Your Back Drawers On” has become a New Orleans standard, especially as performed by vocalist Chuck Carbo, a veteran of the vocal group The Spiders. Rounding out this set are pianist/singer Marcia Ball, with her song based on a Zulu character — the Big Shot with his bowler hat and big cigar — and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, who offer a funky twist on the melody of “Li’l Liza Jane,” long a brass band staple.
In the week before Mardi Gras, the evening parades are family affairs, filled with the aroma of barbeque and the sound of laughter. Chair-topped stepladders are set up along the streets as perches for children to be better positioned to catch the beads thrown from each float. Spectators shout out to kids and cousins in the high-stepping high school marching bands. And you can bet that the music on this album will be emanating from someone’s front porch, beckoning all to the party.
1. The Soul Rebels — “Say Na Hey”
2. Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers — “Goin’ Back to New Orleans”
3. Zachary Richard — “Mardi Gras Mambo”
4. New Orleans Nightcrawlers — “Funky Liza”
5. Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys — “La Danse de Mardi Gras”
6. Larry Williams — “Jockamo a.k.a. Iko-Iko”
7. Al Johnson — “Carnival Time”
8. Marcia Ball — “Big Shot”
9. Professor Longhair “Go to the Mardi Gras”
10. ReBirth Brass Band — “Do Whatcha Wanna, Part 3”
11. Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias — “Tipitina” –
12. Chuck Carbo — “Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On”