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Jon Cleary -Occapella!

FHQ Records

12 tracks

I have always looked at Allen Toussaint as the epitome of New Orleans music. His songs run the gamut of fun and lively to deep and meaningful. He embraces jazz and blues and Cajun styles into an art form unique to his city and in a truly elegant style. Jon Cleary, an English transplant to the Crescent City for the past three decades, has released an album of Toussaint's music, ranging from the familiar to the more obscure and yet still meaningful stuff Toussaint has produced. His delivery and spin are uniquely his own; Cleary plays all instruments on the CD except on the first track. He also sings on each track, with the help of some of NOLA's finest. Cleary is no slouch himself, this being his sixth solo CD and having sat in with many a great musician over the years. His songwriting, piano work and vocals are superb, yet here he takes on a complete album of Toussaint covers, not as a tribute to Toussaint necessarily, but perhaps as a means to come home to his adopted place of residence in the Big Easy. He grew up a fan of Toussaint's, moved to New Orleans, and the rest is history. Cleary has himself become a fixture in the Louisiana Gulf Coast music scene.

I am not entirely sure as where to start, so let's discuss the opening track where Cleary has some "help". Dr John and Bonnie Raitt join Cleary in the vocals of "Let's Get Low Down" and Dr John even adds his guitar to the mix. Members of the Philthy Phew lay down the bottom end for this cut (James Singleton on bass and Terence Higgins on drums) and it is quite the auspicious beginning to an album by one master of New Orleans sound doing another masters' tunes. Cleary's piano is gusty and cool as are the vocals by all involved. Jon, Raitt and Dr. John get down together in a threesome of soulful, Cajun vocal charms. What a great way to start off the CD! The title track follows and it it gives us a better idea of the singular Cleay approach, where he adds all instrumentation but gets some great backing vocals. "Poor Boy Gotta Move" continues in a reggae-iffied Cajun style and then Walter Wolfman Washington joins Cleary on a stirring version of "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky". It certainly, certainly is! He takes the song that is Lee Dorsey's and Cleary gives us a great take on it.

The album is filled with the fun and unique like "Popcorn Pop Pop" to more serious topics like "Viva La Money" This is funk and soul and oh so well done music top to bottom. If you are a Cleary fan, you will enjoy him playing around in the immortal world of Toussaint's music. If your are a Toussaint fan you will love how Cleary spins these tunes. If you are a fan of sounds from Nawlins you will also love this. If you are one of the above or new to this kind of music, it will serve to show what is going on and has been going on the that area for the past few decades; it would be a great primer to begin to survey all that New Orleans has to offer. I really enjoyed this CD and think that if your heart still beats that you will, too!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

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