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March 2011

Kermit Ruffins
Happy Talk
Basin Street Records

Kermit Ruffins, the good-time trumpet player who portrayed himself last year on HBO’s Treme, is the same brash cat audiences first warmed to in the early ’80s, when he was a teenager co-leading the Rebirth Brass Band. And Happy Talk, produced by Tracey Freeman (of Harry Connick Jr. fame) and several cuts above Ruffins’ most recent discs, effectively explains his appeal, aptly conveying the warmth, vigor and joie de vivre he brings to his stage appearances. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Ruffins is joined by a superb rhythm section—pianist Matt Lemmler, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Herlin Riley—and such high-caliber horn players as tenor saxophonist Eric Traub and clarinetist Dr. Michael White, a labelmate.

Louis Armstrong’s presence is felt, of course, on several tunes associated with Pops, including the hard-swinging “Shine,” with Ruffins’ trumpet charging straight out of the gate before shifting to his playful vocals and inspired solo turns by Traub, trombonist Mark Mullins, Riley and the leader. Also on offer is a sweetly swinging “Hey Look Me Over” and “La Vie En Rose,” with White swirling around Ruffins’ jaunty declarations.

Surprises? Not really. But the lighthearted charm runs deep on pieces like a Latin-infused version of “If I Only Had a Brain,” from a certain movie soundtrack, a grooving take on Sam Cooke’s “Ain’t That (Good News)” and the bouncy title track, one of several benefiting from Lemmler’s imaginative solos. “Panama” jolts the album open with a blast of stomping traditional jazz, driven hard by Riley. Ruffins turns in two originals, the chunky “I Got a Treme Woman” and “New Orleans (My Home Town).” The latter, a shuffling blues that drops place names, pretty much accomplishes what Ruffins does at most every show: He leaves listeners wanting more.

Originally published in March 2011
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