Monday, September 19, 2011

Triple Threat reviewed by Mark Thompson

Triple Threat
Joe Krown, Russell Batiste Jr., & Walter “Wolfman” Washington
12 tracks/70:12

Some years ago the Bullseye Record label released a compilation with the title Ain't No Funk Like New Orleans Funk, a phrase that soon showed up on t-shirts in shops throughout the city. There has always been a strong element of funk throughout the various strains of the New Orleans musical tradition and now three renown musicians return with their second release that highlights the deep grooves that are unique to the city.

Joe Krown played keyboards as a member of the great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown's band. He is one of the hardest working musicians in NO, whether playing solo piano in the House of Blues gift shop on a Saturday afternoon, playing solo piano or leading his Organ Combo in one of the clubs. He sticks with his 1958 Hammond B-3 organ on this project, using it to supply the bass line in the absence of a regular bass player while filling plenty of musical space with dazzling runs and slinky rhythms.

Russell Batiste Jr. comes from one of the legendary New Orleans musical families, learning to play the drums at an early age and developing a style that brings the the traditional second-line beat into the modern era. His standing as a first call drummer is apparent from the list of top NO bands that he has played with – Papa Grows Funk, Harry Connick Jr. and the Funky Meters. Batiste is also a skilled songwriter, contributing three instrumentals on this project.
Walter Washington has been one of the most celebrated musicians in New Orleans, with a career that stretches over five decades. As a teenager, he toured with singer Lee Dorsey (“Working in a Coalmine”) before adding his guitar to the band backing Irma Thomas. He also worked another acclaimed singer, Johnny Adams, who mentored Washington on becoming an accomplish vocalist. Since striking out on his own, the Wolfman has has served up a rich mixture of soul, blues and jazz elements that give his music its distinctive sound.

Seven tracks are instrumentals and all are worth repeated listens. Batiste Jr.'s “Rollin' With Big Pat” is a joyous musical celebration with Washington's clean, bright guitar tone offering a nice contrast to Krown's darker organ tones. The title track features an insistent beat from Batiste and some fleet picking in a jazz vein from the Wolfman. Krown delivers a smoldering performance on “Dame Dreaming”, with Washington adding another spirited guitar solo. “Down By the River”, a Krown original, will put some bounce in your step and finds the organist utilizing the melody from Stephen Foster's “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”.

Washington handles the vocals on five tracks, stretching his phrasing of the lyrics on “Last Two Dollars” and putting his wide vocal range to good use on “Only You”. Some of the lessons Washington learned from Adams are illustrated on the moving interpretation of the ballad, “For Your Love”. The title track of one of his first solo projects, “Out of the Dark”, gets an intensely emotional reading that makes it another standout track.

If you haven't explored the wealth of infectious grooves that NO musicians have been producing for decades, grab a copy of this recording - plug it & turn it up - and prepare yourself for a master class in what makes New Orleans music special.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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