March 2003

Kermit Ruffins
Big Easy
Basin Street Records

You don't have to wait for Mardi Gras or Jazzfest to visit New Orleans. A spin of the latest by Kermit Ruffins, Big Easy (Basin Street), will take you on a musical good-time tour of the Crescent City. You don't look to Ruffins for virtuosity or innovation; his music is more like your favorite comfort food. His rendition of "Tiger Rag" goes down easy; it's a satisfying toe-tapper with a trumpet vibrato that shows the Armstrong influence. Ruffins quotes from "El Manicero" while putting a calypso spin on the South African "Skokiaan," and drummer Herlin Riley helps lay down the in-the-groove shuffle on the blues "Wake Up Neesie." There's also a cute and catchy kids song called "Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner" and a "Basin Street Blues," which probably gets a hoot from the tourists with big Hurricane drinks in hand. There's even a lame rap song titled "One Life" that is momentarily saved from disaster by some hip phrasing. But the best tune by far is "When I Die (You Better Second Line)," which features Juanita Brooks going to church and drummer Shannon Powell reminding us how to step lively.

Originally published in March 2003

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