Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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New Orleans Classics:
Rocking & Rolling on the River

FATS DOMINO
Fats Domino Jukebox: 20 Greatest Hits the Way You Originally Heard Them
Capitol

If rock is a music of voices and guitars, its New Orleans variant is a music of pianos and drums. It rocks, sure, but people love it for the way it rolls. Its friendliest exponent is charter Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Antoine Domino, who scored more pop hits in the '50s than anyone except Elvis, Pat Boone, and Perry Como. Every one shows up on the solidly enjoyable four-CD They Call Me the Fat Man . . . . But the best are concentrated on this cheap little party record--a surprisingly intense one, given the sweet lassitude of Fats's drawl. Break your own heart--put on "Walking to New Orleans."

PROFESSOR LONGHAIR
'Fess: The Professor Longhair Anthology
Rhino

Domino was a simple, economical, rhythmically impeccable boogie-woogie man. Nine years older, Roy Byrd--self-taught, supposedly on a wrecked piano--was none of these things, yet birthed Fats, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint, and many others. "Rhumba boogie" was Fess's long-fingered thing: drastically canted Latin-tinge figures supporting off-key classics like "Tipitina" and "Bald Head," with its unforgettable if not unexpected "She ain't got no hair." He's a weirdo who takes getting used to, absolutely. But those who've managed it wonder how they ever lived without him.

THE METERS
Funkify Your Life: The Meters Anthology
Rhino

Hey, some guitar. What you don't get, at first, is voice. The Meters were the other great funk band of the '60s--alongside James Brown's JB's, with the M.G.'s off in some steadier, earlier rhythmic place. But after Leo Nocentelli's guitar or Art Neville's organ or even George Porter's bass states the theme, the soloist on your mind is nonpareil drummer Ziggy Modeliste. Zigaboo articulated his beats so eccentrically they're hooky. On the local-label disc here, the Meters play and occasionally yell. On the other, Warners starts turning them into the Neville Brothers.

THE WILD TCHOUPITOULAS
The Wild Tchoupitoulas
Mango

Every year at Mardi Gras--and don't bet some version is off for 2006--neighborhood "krewes" spend months sewing Indian costumes and practicing traditional chants for carnival parades. Here Neville uncle George Landry, a/k/a Big Chief Jolley, chants with his krewe over Meters beats softened by Aaron Neville's piano and two extra Nevilles on hand percussion. This Allen Toussaint production is far more captivating than the putatively authentic Indian albums that ensued. Ecstatic, celebratory, amiable, the music comes with lyrics that make much of not kneeling or bowing. Hondo hondo, Tchoupitoulas. Represent.

DR. JOHN
Gumbo
Atco

There ought to be a single compilation honoring the best shots of, among many others, Shirley & Lee, the Showmen, Ernie K-Doe, and Jessie Hill, with his promise to "create a disturbance in your mind." But all the great domestic ones are out of print (best available: Rhino's More New Orleans Party Classics). Until that's rectified, settle for this tribute to a tradition by hustling pianist-guitarist Mac Rebennack, cut in L.A. with fellow N.O. expats led by saxophonist Harold Battiste. It includes best shots by none of the above. But it does have "Iko Iko," "Junko Partner," and "Little Liza Jane." That's some tradition.

LOUIS ARMSTRONG
Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 1923-1934
Columbia/Legacy

Rock and roll wasn't invented in New Orleans, but a related style supposedly was. Jazz, it's called. This cornet-blowing son of the Crescent City slums is its greatest exponent--and America's greatest musician. Start anywhere--there aren't many mediocre Armstrong albums. But here on four CDs is the cream of his flaming youth. Though he never recorded in New Orleans, through 1927 he worked almost exclusively with homeboys, whose creaky syncopations he tested and pushed as his street swing matured and his technical mastery grew. Armstrong's imagination, intellect, daring, sound, and sense of humor imbue every improvised horn flight and growled vocal. Listen in remembrance of New Orleans.

Rolling Stone, Oct. 6, 2005

Postscript Notes:

This piece ran as a sidebar to a story by Mikal Gilmore, Music From a Lost City.