Jon Cleary : Occapella!

Occapella! consist of masterpieces from the quintessential New Orleans catalog of Allen Toussaint, performed with soulful virtuosity by Jon Cleary.  As a fully embraced player in New Orleans music, English-born Cleary claims Toussaint a big influence on his adolescence. Having played alongside some serious heavyweights, himself –  Keb’Mo, Taj Mahal and India Arie, just to name a few – he had no trouble finding some friends to lend a hand with this project.

On the opening track, “Let’s Get Low Down,” Bonnie Raitt and Dr. John join in for a gritty blues soul-stirrer.  Cleary assaults his piano with acrobatic fingers, while Dr. John takes some nice runs on guitar.  The album’s title cut solidifies the vocal power of Cleary, and his cohorts Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander and Derwin “Big D” Perkins,  two long-standing members in his Absolute Monster Gentlemen band.  From the opening backbeat to the flawless harmonies, the acapella on this track is divine.

Deeply rooted fans of New Orleans music and Toussaint’s work will definitely respect and enjoy the obscurity of songs, like the island-flavored “Poor Boy Got to Move” and “When the Party’s Over.” And for listeners who weren’t up to speed with Toussaint’s work, this album offers Cliff’s Notes to some of America’s greatest songs. Toussaint is not only a great songwriter, he has some serious chops behind the keys. So when Cleary hits full stride on “Fortune Teller,” his adoration for the music really shines. He romps and rolls up and down the keys, chugging with the locomotive of a song as it gains speed.

Of course, it is impossible not to note the spot-on “Southern Nights.”  Quite possibly the biggest expression of Cleary’s multi-instrumental talents, he pays great respect to one of Toussaint’s best songs while reconstructing it in his own cloth.

There is not much better representation of the heart and soul of the the Crescent City than the play of Cleary and majesty of Toussaint’s songwriting.  This definitely goes down as a must have for fans of New Orleans music.

Ocappella! is out now on FHQ Records.