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Rainin' In New Orleans

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Album Review

Slewfoot & Cary B. (Mark McLaughlin and Cary Beckelheimer) have worked as a street singing duo in New Orleans' French Quarter for some years, and knowing that, and given the label here, Music Maker, it's easy to assume that Rainin' in New Orleans would be a pleasant collection of traditional folk and blues material with, perhaps, a Big Easy slant. But from the first song here, "A Song for James Durant," which turns out to be a brilliantly drawn small epic on living and dying in America, it's obvious that this album is going to be something else again. Slewfoot and Cary B.'s voices mesh together with an easy, haunting grace, but it is their songwriting, both separately and together, that is most striking. The co-written "A Song for James Durant" is a quiet and powerful masterpiece, and the second track, Slewfoot's "Carolina # 6," is only slightly less so, while his "Rainin' in New Orleans" feels like a song that has been around for 100 years and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it takes on a powerful added poignancy. Cary B.'s "Albert's Song (Dauphine Street)" and "Bound and Determined" are equally as impressive, both telling complicated stories simply, with surprising turns of phrase that deepen the songs at every turn. The instrumentation on Rainin' in New Orleans is sparse, and yet manages to feel surprisingly full, as well, with added instruments (drums, saxophone, piano) joining Slewfoot's guitar and harmonica and Cary B.'s bass at key points in the arrangements, and always to the benefit of the songs, which gently unfold without apparent artifice. Check out the steel drums (played by Peter Nu) on "Albert's Song (Dauphine Street)." They're obviously steel drums, but the tones are so well arranged and muted that they sound almost like a distant string quartet, and the result is more atmospheric than percussive, which brilliantly helps the song tell its story. Cary B.'s voice is particularly fascinating, sounding at times like Chrissie Hynde if Hynde had spent years singing on the banks of the Mississippi River in New Orleans. Slewfoot's voice is also somehow both unique and familiar, recalling perhaps a raspier Fred Neil, and when the two sing together, the harmonies have a wild naturalness, a bit like a tenor sax and a clarinet exploring opposite ends of the same melody in perfect step. The end result sounds fresh and undeniably haunting. This is a marvelous album, low-key and unhurried, full of intelligent, memorable songs that have been arranged with care and inventiveness. Rainin' in New Orleans is a wise, gentle gem. Seek it out.


Genre: Blues

Years Active: '00s

Street musicians Slewfoot & Cary B. happened to meet one evening on the bank of the Mississippi River in New Orleans in 2002, and the combination of Slewfoot's guitar and Cary's bass gelled, not to mention the sound of their voices together, and they joined forces as a musical team, becoming one of the most popular street acts in the Big Easy. Slewfoot was born Mark McLaughlin in 1953. He began playing guitar at 13. When he was 14 his mother killed herself, and since his father was on a tour of duty...
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Rainin' In New Orleans, Slewfoot & Cary B.
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