Music in brief: Looking back, planning ahead
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes @ Maple Leaf Bar
You really can’t go wrong at The Maple Leaf during Jazz Fest. Not only is the music great, but there are always those unexpected surprises (like an unofficial Popeye’s promotion with all-you-can-eat fried chicken) that make this place worth writing home about.
Local heroes Johnny Sketch and his band of gypsy-funk rockers got the crowd moving for their CD release party and kept the energy up for the entire set. Sporting a heavy metal-length beard, Johnny Sketch looks as nontraditional as his band’s highly infectious concoction of funk, rock, classical, and gypsy inspired melodies.
Sketch effectively incorporated an electric upright cello into a few songs to lay down mournful solos atop the fast grooves of the Dirty Notes without missing a beat. These guys will be taking over Papa Grows Funk’s Monday-night slot for the month of May; be sure to check ‘em out for some finger-lickin good tunes.
Sun Dog @ Frenchman St Art Market
New Orleans’ Sun Dog is a one-man band who loops multiple instruments (a la Andrew Bird or Keller Williams) to create lush symphonies of sound that swallow the listener with strong grooves.
Using a bass, ukulele, synthesizer, sampler, and a multitude of effects, Sun Dog manages to craft interesting, catchy songs that most bands strive for but never quite achieve. Case in point: “Waiting For You” starts with a catchy sample, builds up with infectious bass lines, and is topped off with Sun Dog’s expressive voice to convey a sense of longing in a refreshingly unique way. Follow him @sundogshows and catch him around town ASAP.
Lee Fields and the Expressions @ One Eyed Jack’s
Lee Fields and his incredible backing band brought some true soul to the French Quarter Saturday night, whipping the crowd into a screaming frenzy the likes of which isn’t seen every night. Lee Fields has been on the scene since 1962, and it’s a mystery why his name isn’t uttered in the same breath as the soul greats.
Dancing like a young James Brown and howling like Otis Redding, Fields made all bearing witness believe in the power of music while his band laid down some raw power behind him. When he crooned “I’ve always been a faithful man, until you came along,” his heart was on the stage and the crowd was on the ceiling. His gratitude was clear in his repeated confessions of “I love you!” to the rapt audience and his huge grin showed how important this long overdue moment in the spotlight was to the elder man. This is what Jazz Fest is all about.
Papa Grows Funk @ The Maple Leaf Bar
John "Papa" Gros has been leading an incredibly talented ensemble of musicians at The Maple Leaf every Monday night for the past 13 years. Sadly, this past Monday marked the end of their residency, and next month at Tipitina's they will be going on an indefinite hiatus (although Papa Gros refuses to say they are breaking up).
This really is too bad, since these guys are true torchbearers of New Orleans funk in the 21st century and play with the ease that can only be earned through time. All five members are incredible, and they were joined by some special guests, such as original drummer Russell Batiste, Jr, to lay waste to the Maple Leaf stage one last time.
Guitarist June Yamigishi is the secret weapon in their arsenal, unleashing a plethora of Hendrix-esque solos that put him on par with any of the more famous guitarists on the modern jam band circuit. Wherever these guys land, you can be sure they will continue to bring the hard funk they have honed for the past 13 years with their Papa.
Shane Colman writes about New Orleans music for Live Music Blog, a content partner of NolaVie.