Anything as unashamedly New Orleans as The HooDoo Loungers deserves to be cherished. From their jazz-street-funk mashup sound to their respectful reworking of Americana roots classics on their latest album, So Beautiful, right through to their description of said sound as a “musical gumbo”… the whole ride is a joyful celebration of the Big Easy. Think festivals, raucous street life and a melting pot of cultural inferences, all set to ballsy brass grooves and you’re well on your way to understanding the context behind this album.
The actual experience, however, is another story. Telling someone about the absolute pleasure the HooDoo Loungers express through their music is like trying to describe the subtle flavour profiles of French cuisine to a life-long chain smoker. There’s so much happening, that engagement is essential to grasping the full nuanced palette of So Beautiful. Also present is a massive swell of authenticity and love that drives me to include ‘genuine emotion’ as an instrument in its own right in what is already a well-rounded complement of guitar, upright bass, sax, trombone, trumpet, sax, keys and vocals. That emotion carries through into the tipping of the hat to those gone before, in the shape of the nine classic pieces of American music tradition being reworked in a HooDoo Lounger style that make up the bulk of the record.
But what typifies a HooDoo Lounger style? Now there’s a question… It’s jazzy, definitely, steeped in old-time ragtime flavour à la Jelly Roll Morton… but it’s also thicker and swampier in places than a Professor Longhair jam, and blessed with more Dr. John funk and groove-per-song than most outfits muster through their entire careers. There’s the leftfield, tongue-in-cheek jive of “HooDoo Time Machine,” for instance, which shares a lot of common ground with the likes of other nostalgic fusion outfits like the Squirrel Nut Zippers or The Hot Sardines – musically and in terms of ‘cheese’ factor.
However, the swingin’ big band sound carries through in the ‘cover’ versions as well – the fuller, more bombastic take on “Careless Love,” for example, feels like a cleaner, less greasy version of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. That same rockabilly sensibility carries through into “Shake it, Quake it” and “Fast and Loose,” making for a completely different target audience than the HooDoo Loungers may have expected. The surprises don’t stop there, though; the bluegrass classic “I’ll Fly Away” takes on a completely new, lazy flavour in this nine-piece outfit’s capable hands. The call-and-answer duet in this last case shifts gears, from its minimal hymnal origins to an upbeat toe-tapper and a stunning example of the HooDoo Loungers’ personal audio aesthetic.
The wistful irony and self-promotion in the official video suit the cheeky atmosphere in the official video for “Hoodoo Time Machine.”
In fact, it’s these unique reinterpretations that really make So Beautiful so successful: while the original offerings are delights in their own right, the familiarity of the classic cuts, imbued with fresh feeling is what reinvigorates the record as a whole. Paradiddle Records are onto a winner with the HooDoo Loungers and I can only hope they carry on “Rockin’ the Mardi Gras” the way they are, because in dark days like these some uplifting New Orleans jazz is just the ticket.
So Beautiful Track Listing:
1. So Beautiful
2. Hoodoo Time Machine
3. Get Ready for the Party
4. Careless Love
5. Hit the Ground
6. Yes We Can
7. Shake it, Quake it
9. Fast and Loose
10. My Bucket’s got a Hole in it
11. Watch Your Mouth
12. Rockin’ the Mardi Gras
13. Real Real Gone
14. I’ll Fly Away
15. Another (Hunkered Down) Day
Run Time: 59:49
Release Date: January 21, 2022
Record Label: Paradiddle Records