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Backatown

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Album Review

Backatown, the Verve debut from New Orleans composer, bandleader, and trombone and trumpet boss Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, was one of the most hotly anticipated recordings of 2010. Given the well-deserved reputation Andrews and his Orleans Avenue band have for incendiary live performances, one had to wonder if it would translate in their studio offerings for independent labels. It didn't because they'd never had the budget to get the vibe right. Backatown is the first time that Orleans Avenue — Dwayne "Big D" Williams (percussion), Mike Ballard (bass), Joey Peebles (drums), Pete Murano (guitar), and Dan Oestreicher (baritone sax) — have had an actual budget to capture the Trombone Shorty experience, and they've made a studio record that offers a real taste of the live show's excitement. Shorty calls his music “supafunkrock,” and it's an accurate term for the aural gumbo on this fingerpopping, butt-shakin' mix set. Produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman, it contains 13 Shorty originals and an original interpretation of Allen Toussaint's “On Your Way Down," on which Toussaint plays piano. The set is titled for a term used by residents of the Treme neighborhood in the city’s 6th Ward — the oldest black neighborhood in America. It definitely sounds like it was recorded in a proper recording studio (Number C and Shorty’s Gumbo Room in N.O.) but transcends those confines. It crackles and burns with an unburdened, unfettered, passionate live feel. Clocking in at 43 minutes, it opens with “Hurricane Season.” It commences with a marching rhythm on snare and bass drum followed by Andrews playing a trumpet vamp. It kicks into dancing gear with one of the nastiest, funkiest basslines since Parliament's “Flash Light,” followed by horn vamps, big power chords, and drum kit breaks that are infectious. “Quiet as Kept” combines Ballard’s bass with guest Charles Smith's synthesized bassline, honking baritone sax, grimy distorted electric guitars and trombones, percussion, and organ for a monster funk workout. Former Andrews boss Lenny Kravitz guests on guitar and backing vox on “Something Beautiful,” which weds hip-hop, rock, and neo-soul. The rockist power chords on “Right to Complain” underscore Andrews duetting with Marc Broussard on an anthem that reflects the need for personal transformation in order to solve community problems. Proof of Andrews’ vocal prowess is everywhere, but especially on the modern soul ballad “Fallin.” That said, it’s the instrumentals with their drum-heavy, cracking on-the-one funk and second-line rhythms that keep the the entire album moving and grooving — check out “Neph,” “In the Sixth,” and closer “928 Horn Jam.” But the rockers — “Suburbia,” “Where Y’ At,” and “The Cure” — meld metallic guitars, second-line, and funky breaks, hip-hop and jazz seamlessly and are equally potent and satisfying. Backatown is everything popular American music should be; yet it's also what sets Andrews and Orleans Avenue, and New Orleans music in general, apart, without compromise. This is a Best of 2010 candidate hands down.

Backatown, Trombone Shorty
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