Ruffins_span3
June 2007

Kermit Ruffins
Live at Vaughn's
Basin Street Records

Kermit Ruffins, a trumpeter and vocalist who is an institution in New Orleans, recorded his new album during one of his band’s weekly concerts at Vaughan’s, a bar in the Big Easy. The sound he’s going for here is raw, unpolished and gritty—a band caught live at a bar. What he gets instead is an album by a group that itself sounds raw, unpolished and gritty—a bar band caught live and unaware that recording equipment was in the room. The crowd roars with approval, however, probably because there was a special on draught that night.

Yeah, it’s that bad. This music had no business being released. The musicians come off as unrehearsed—even Ruffins, whose trumpeting is unremarkable and whose singing occasionally approaches the right key. If he were a contestant on American Idol, Simon Cowell would have him crying in the preliminaries.

This is too bad, because I’ve enjoyed Ruffins’ studio albums over the years. He really does conjure the spirit of the city through his music. Here—with a mangled “Skokiaan,” a ruined “World on a String” and a godawful tune called “Hide the Reefer”—he conjures a third-rate wedding band (with apologies to third-rate wedding bands). And we haven’t even touched his ridiculous rapping on “O-o-h Child,” the totally unmelodic singing of drummer Derek Freeman on “If You Want Me to Stay” or the headache-inducing vocals of Neshia Ruffins, whose talent seems to consist of being Kermit’s daughter.

No, you don’t want to be subjected to this record. Beyond the lousy music there are pet peeves: Does every other song have to end with an “Awwww yeah!”? Does he really need to keep reminding the patrons which city they’re in, with shout-outs like “Only in New Orleans!”?

Only in New Orleans? Well, no, actually—in any city with a bar that features live music on Thursdays.

Originally published in June 2007
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