About Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
Trombone Shorty’s new album opens with a dirge, but if you think the beloved bandleader, singer, songwriter and horn-blower born Troy Andrews came here to mourn, you got it all wrong. That bit of beautiful New Orleans soul—”Laveau Dirge No. 1,” named after one of the city’s most famous voodoo queens—shows off our host’s roots before Parking Lot Symphony branches out wildly, wonderfully, funkily across 12 diverse cuts. True to its title, this album contains multitudes of sound—from brass band blare and deep-groove funk, to bluesy beauty and hip-hop/pop swagger—and plenty of emotion all anchored, of course, by stellar playing and the idea that, even in the toughest of times, as Andrews says, “Music brings unity.”
As for why it’s taken Andrews so long to follow 2013’s Raphael Saadiq-produced Say That to Say This, the man simply says, “I didn’t realize so much time passed. Some artists don’t work until they put a record out but I never stopped going.” Truly. In the last four years, Andrews banked his fifth White House gig; backed Macklemore and Madonna at the Grammys; played on albums by She & Him, Zac Brown, Dierks Bentley, and Mark Ronson; opened tours for Daryl Hall & John Oates and Red Hot Chili Peppers; appeared in Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways documentary series; voiced the iconic sound of the adult characters in The Peanuts Movie; inherited the esteemed annual fest-closing set at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the tradition of Crescent City greats like the Neville Brothers and Professor Longhair; and released Trombone Shorty, a children’s book about his life that was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 2016.
Adding to that legacy, his Blue Note Records debut Parking Lot Symphony finds Andrews teamed with Grammy-nominated producer Chris Seefried (Andra Day, Fitz and the Tantrums) and an unexpected array of cowriters and players including members of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Meters, Better Than Ezra, and Dumpstaphunk. Considering Andrews’ relentless schedule, it’s all the more surprising that this LP began with him in a room, all alone, back in New Orleans.
“I had two weeks at home so I went to the studio and set up the ‘playground,'” he recalls. “I had everything in a circle: tuba, trombone, trumpet, keyboard, Fender Rhodes, Wurly, B3 organ, guitar, bass, drums—and me buried in the middle.” He recorded an album’s worth of ideas and then, well, walked away for a year. Not because he was too busy, but because he wanted to hit the road and see how the music changed on him. When Andrews came back with a full band, the songs came to life.
Take the album’s two covers, a pair of NOLA deep cuts: there’s “Here Comes the Girls,” a 1970 Allen Toussaint song originally recorded by Ernie K-Doe that here (with Ivan Neville on piano) sounds bawdy and regal, like something from a current Bruno Mars album; and The Meters’ lovesick “It Ain’t No Use,” which swirls a vintage R&B vibe with resonant choir vocals and upbeat guitar from The Meters’ Leo Nocentelli himself to transport the listener to the center of the jumpingest jazz-soul concert hall that never was.
The story there is almost too good. The session band—guitarist Pete Murano, sax men Dan Oestreicher and BK Jackson, and drummer Joey Peebles with Dumpstaphunk’s Tony Hall in for Orleans Avenue bassist Mike Bass-Bailey—were in the studio to lay down “It Ain’t No Use.” Hall even had the vintage acoustic he bought from Nocentelli years ago, which was used on the original Meters session. On the way to the bathroom, Andrews saw Nocentelli coming out of a different tracking room: it was meant to be.
But that’s not unusual for a man raised in one of the Tremé’s most musical families. Andrews got his name when he picked up his instrument at four (“My parents pushed me toward trombone because they didn’t need another trumpet player,” he laughs). By eight, he led his own band in parades, halls and even bars: “They’d have to lock the door so the police couldn’t come in.” Promoters would try to hand money to his older cousins, but they’d kindly redirect them to the boy. In his teens, Andrews played shows abroad with the Neville Brothers. Fresh out of high school (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts) he joined Lenny Kravitz’ band.
Across that time, three Trombone Shorty albums and many collaborations since, Andrews nurtured a voracious appetite for all types of music—a phenomenon on fluid display with Parking Lot Symphony. On “Familiar,” co-written by Aloe Blacc, they practically mint a new genre (trap-funk?) while Andrews channels his inner R. Kelly to spit game at an old flame. Meanwhile, the instrumental “Tripped Out Slim” (the nickname of a family friend who recently passed) bends echoes of the Pink Panther theme into something fit for James Brown to strut to. And if you listen closely to “Where It At?,” written with Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, you may even hear a little Y2K pop. “I know it wasn’t cool to listen to *NSYNC or Britney Spears in high school,” says Andrews, “but those bass lines and melodies are funky.” They pair astonishingly well with all the Earth, Wind & Fire that bubbles beneath these songs.
It’s worth noting that Andrews’ vocals sound better than ever (he credits Seefried for that), because Parking Lot Symphony might be the man’s most heartfelt offering yet. The breezy title track, which Andrews wrote with Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros), is as much about walking the Tremé, being uplifted by the music that seems to seep from every surface, as it is about moving on from a broken heart. And the shuffling, bluesy “No Good Time” reminds us, with a world-weary smile, that “nobody never learned nothin’ from no good time.”
But Andrews is clear that this isn’t some kind of breakup record. “It’s a life record,” he says, “about prevailing no matter what type of roadblock is in front of you.” That message is clearest on “Dirty Water,” where over an easy groove, Andrews adopts a soft falsetto to address just about anyone going through it—personal, political, whatever. “There’s a lot of hope turning to doubt,” he coos. “I’ve got something to say to them / You don’t know what you’re talking about / When you believe in love, it all works out.” Amen. Now let the horns play us out.
About St. Paul & The Broken Bones
Sea of Noise, the second full-length album by St. Paul and the Broken Bones, marks a quantum leap in sound and style for the high-voltage Birmingham, Alabama-based band.
Produced by Paul Butler and recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium, the group’s sophomore effort features an expanded eight-piece lineup of the widely praised soul-based rock unit. Longtime members Paul Janeway (lead vocals), Jesse Phillips (bass, guitar), Browan Lollar (guitars), Andrew Lee (drums), Al Gamble (keyboards), and Allen Branstetter (trumpet) are joined by Jason Mingledorff (saxophone, clarinet, flute), and Chad Fisher (trombone).
The collection of new original songs is the group’s first release on RECORDS, a joint venture of SONGS Publishing, winner of ASCAP’s 2016 independent publisher of the year award, and veteran label executive Barry Weiss.
Sea of Noise is a successor to the Broken Bones’ 2013 debut album Half the City, which introduced the group’s blazing mating of ‘60s soul fire – daubed with latter-day influences like Sly Stone, David Bowie, and Prince — to Janeway’s impassioned singing and writing. The new album witnesses a deepening and broadening of the unit’s musical reach and lyrical concerns.
“It felt like it happened organically,” Janeway says of the band’s development. “With the last record, it was like doing things with your hair on fire – going in, recording it live. There’s a sense of urgency to having a record like that. We were only a band for about five months at that point. I didn’t know my voice – I’d never done this professionally. I was just learning more nuance, and about carrying a melody. You don’t have to go for it 100% all the time. You can draw people in by giving and taking.”
Janeway says that he and his close musical associate Phillips began to ponder the direction of the band’s second album a year and a half ago. “If we had been forced to go into a studio a year and a half ago, we probably would have done a better version of Half the City,” he says. “There would have been nothing wrong with that. But we started evolving, or changing.”
Work began in earnest during last year’s Coachella festival in California: “We rented a house in San Bernardino Valley National Park. The week in between the two weekends, we really started to hash things out. Then we rented out a very hot warehouse in Birmingham where we could write. And me and Jesse and a few of us would send stuff back and forth via Dropbox. That gave me the ability to work on harmonies on the vocals. I wanted to take it up a notch, in all realms.”
Looking to such inspirations as Tom Waits and Nick Cave, Janeway was intent on lifting his game as a songwriter on material for the second album. “I’m married to a woman with a masters in literature, and I can’t show her lyrics unless I’m pretty proud of ‘em,” he says. “I had to sit and think about what I’m saying – what do I want to say, is there anything to say? What’s my perspective as this Southern kid who’s watching the modern world and feeling very much like an alien in a lot of ways. This is more personal. If you’re going to say something, say something, and don’t waste your breath unless you feel like you’re saying something.”
Janeway adds that his reading of the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, played a role in the direction of the work: “I didn’t want it to be an overly political record, but I feel it shows up a little bit on the album.”
With a full complement of new songs in hand, St. Paul and the Broken Bones entered the studio with Butler, leader of the British band the Bees and producer of Devendra Banhart and Michael Kiwanuka.
“Jesse was listening to one of his records and he said, ‘Everything sounds great,’” Janeway recalls. “It sounded like a real record – everything had depth, and was expansive-sounding. Butler ended up being the guy that we wanted to use. Producer-wise, I think we knocked a home run. He is very meticulous.”
On Sea of Noise, the band’s brawny horn-driven sound is augmented – and displaced — by the use of a string quartet and a vocal choir. The strings – recorded at Memphis’ historic Sam Phillips Recording by engineer Jeff Powell – were arranged by Lester Snell, a veteran of Stax Records sessions by Isaac Hayes, Shirley Brown, Albert King, and the Staple Singers, among many others. Janeway says of Snell, “He did all these classic, great records in Memphis – he did the string arrangements on them. The strings, for us, supply a darker tone. Horns sometimes can’t portray a certain darkness. We thought that would be the best option, instead of horn lines. We have songs on this record that don’t have any horns at all.”
Employed on “Crumbling Light Posts,” the recurring motif that appears three times on the album, Jason Clark and the Tennessee Mass Choir were recorded in another legendary Memphis facility. “The Stax Museum let us go in there after hours and record the choir,” Janeway says, adding with a laugh. “We said, ‘Well, hell, we’re in Memphis, let’s just see if they’ll do it.’ It was pretty neat, I’m not gonna lie.”
He says of the finished work, “Sea of Noise is not quite a full-blown concept record. It is focused in terms of subject matter – finding redemption and salvation and hope. ‘Crumbling Light Posts’ comes from an old Winston Churchill quote, in which he said England was a crumbling lighthouse in a sea of darkness. I always thought that was a really interesting concept – that we’re falling anyway. In this day and age, it is the noise that has defined so many things. We’re going to fall to it eventually, but for now we feel like our heads are above water. It felt anthemic.”
The album’s lyrical and emotional richness is heard loudly in stunning new compositions like “Burning Rome” (which Janeway describes as “a letter to God, if I could write it”) and the startling “I’ll Be Your Woman,” which knocks traditional soul music gender roles on their heads. Janeway says of the latter song, “I wrote that with Jesse, and he said, ‘If I can write that song, I can die a happy man, because I’ve finally made something that I feel can stand up to my standards.’”
St. Paul and the Broken Bones, which toured extensively in the U.S. and Europe behind their debut album, will put their take-no-prisoners live show on the road this fall. Their most recent concert work included arena dates opening for the Rolling Stones in Atlanta and Buffalo. Some acts may have been daunted by such a task, but not this one.
“It was pretty neat, it was pretty crazy,” Janeway says. “I love the Rolling Stones, but my train of thought it, you gotta try and blow ‘em off the stage. And that’s still my goal.”