New Orleanian Spreads Americana Wings With Bring Back Red Raspberry
By Tom Speed
In the years following Hurricane Katrina, when New Orleans musician Dave Jordan’s band disbanded and his marriage dissolved, he did what musicians do in such times. He picked up his acoustic guitar. Then the songs came out.
Jordan released his first solo record, These Old Boots, in 2010 and it was something of a departure. Swathed in pedal steel guitar and populated with melancholy, acoustically-rendered tunes, the Americana leanings of These Old Boots stood in contrast to his previous work as the founder/bassist/bandleader of the funk outfit Juice.
These Old Boots was lauded by the local press in New Orleans, and three years later, Jordanâ€™s follow-up, Bring Back Red Raspberry, expands that palette even more with a collection of songs that sample flavors from country, zydeco, and R&B while fleshing out the songs with more instrumentation and a joie de vivre that didnâ€™t exist on the last outing. Itâ€™s a culmination many years in the making, but a natural progression for a musician who has been steeped in the sounds of southern Louisiana all his life, and who has been around long enough that heâ€™s no longer just an up-and-comer.
Now an elder statesman of the New Orleans music scene, Jordan finds himself playing the mentor role to musicians a decade younger than he is, much like he learned from Anders Osborne, George Porter and others.Â Itâ€™s a lineage Jordan embraces.
â€œVery early on in this process I realized that my whole career with Juice, I was always looking up to Porter and Anders and Joe Krown and the older guys,â€ says Jordan.
But when he coincidentally formed the loose-knit band that plays on Red Raspberry, he recognized that they might be looking up to him in the same way. â€œI realized early on that I was working with guys the other end of the spectrum now, about a decade younger than me. I really got into that idea. I had kind of cordoned myself off. All those years on the road, I wasnâ€™t here for a lot of these guys coming up. I didnâ€™t get to witness it. I was gone. It was really fun for me, and informative and educational to work with guys that were not in my wheelhouse.â€
Juice had been part of the local funk scene in the late 1990s and helped bridge the gap between the burgeoning jam band scene and the funk heritage of New Orleansâ€”it was Jordan who personally
introduced George Porter to Widespread Panic, for example. Peers of the time included bands like Galactic, All That and Iris May Tango.
Of the group, only Galactic and Juice toured the country relentlessly, each with their own take on classic New Orleans funk music. Â Heavily influenced by the Meters and George Porterâ€™s Runninâ€™Â Pardners, Juice always leaned to the R&B side of the funk equation, with Taj Mahal and Bill Withers songs populating their setlists alongside their groove-laden originals. They gained a reputation as a party band and blanketed the Southeast, but also found audiences in Colorado and California eager to soak up their New Orleans vibe.
They released three albums while juggling a rotating lineup.Â Â Their funky debut Fortified came in 2000, followed by the Anders Osborne-produced All Lit Up in 2002. The live collection Juice Live: Hey Buddy! came out in 2005. It was a double disc set that positioned them to reach an even larger audience. Alas, it was released just weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit. Like many New Orleans bands, the members of Juice scattered far and wide in Katrinaâ€™s wake, from California and Colorado to Nashville and beyond. Some members didnâ€™t return to the city for years, and though they had about half of a new album in the can, they never quite got back together.
Following the dissolution of his band, and the concurrent dissolution of his marriage, Jordan sought out solo gigs wherever he could find them as he adjusted to a single-income household and its attendant bills. One of those gigs was a weekly show at the Banks Street Bar, a neighborhood joint near his home in Mid-City New Orleans.
There, he pulled out his acoustic guitar on Thursday nights and began pouring his heart out with confessional, emotionally wrenching tales. Soon his drummer buddy Andre Bohren, a founding member of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes, would join him along with fiddle player Harry Hardin, also a bandmate of Bohrenâ€™s.
The Thursday night gig went from solo to a trio…then sometimes a quartet. Friends dropped in and out from week to week. The makeshift band in the making was joined by Greg â€œWolfâ€ Hodges, who like Jordan, was adept at both bass and guitar, which enabled the two to swap instruments as the songs demanded.
The two had met back in the Juice days, when Juice would share bills with Col. Bruce Hampton and the Codetalkers, with whom Hodges was playing bass at the time.
â€œMe and Wolf made a quick connection,â€ says Jordan. â€œOur sense of humor is kind of the same. The connection with Col. Bruce was a focal point. Our music sensibilities are very similar in their diversity. He knows serious country music, rock music.â€
These gigs started being billed as â€œDave Jordan and the Neighborhood Improvement Associationâ€â€”a loose-limbed consortium that by definition had no described membership or precise repertoire.Â Before he knew it, the Thursday night gig at Banks Street had lasted two years.
â€œItâ€™s a brutal amount of time,â€ says Jordan. â€œBut a lot grew out of it.â€
The most tangible thing that grew out of it is Bring Back Red Raspberry, on which Jordan and his pals incorporate the instrumentation of those weekly gigs with some of the songs forged from them. For some of those songs, Jordan would bring a basic blueprint to the group, and the players would add their own flourishes. Others were later developed in the studio.
â€œThese tunes were written real fast, but Iâ€™d write them and then weâ€™d go to Banks Street and theyâ€™d flesh themselves out over time,â€ says Jordan. â€œAndre and Wolf really developed the songs live. Then we got in the studio and thatâ€™s where the other things come in. What [Bill] Machow did with keyboards and accordion in the studio really took it to another level.â€
The twin touchstones of Jordanâ€™s musical upbringing were the Meters and the Grateful Dead, and if Juice explored the territory of the former, his latest output channels the more acoustically tinged side of the latter, only bringing it to itâ€™s modern conclusion. Several of the selections on Bring Back Blue Raspberry place Jordan not within the context of his forbearers but alongside his contemporaries, and in some somewhat surprising areas. Much of the album fits comfortably into a twangy shuffle that brings to mind Americana stalwarts like Son Volt and Drive-By Truckers moreso than Galactic or their other fellow funksters.
Elsewhere, accordion and fiddle provide a rhythmic foundation that draws on zydeco and Cajun music. Though Jordan may have started out playing jam-based funk music, itâ€™s hard not to soak up oneâ€™s surroundings.
â€œYou write the songs and then the songs kind of tell you what they need,â€ he says. â€œIf a song says, some accordion would sound cool here, you put some accordion on there. I never thought I would end up writing zydeco style music, but it is what it is. To me, itâ€™s just another part of growing up in south Louisiana and being surrounded by music. Itâ€™s not something I set out to do. Itâ€™s just something absolutely natural for me to do. Itâ€™s as easy for me to do that as it is to pick up a bass and play a Meters tune.â€
Itâ€™s apparent on â€œBy The Side of The Stage,â€ a breezy mid-tempo tune in which Bohren makes his kit sound like a washboard and Malchow decorates the beat with graceful accordion swaths while Hardin rounds out the melody on fiddle. Itâ€™s a true amalgamationâ€”too country to be zydeco, too rock to be country.
In fact, a compelling factor of Bring Back Red Raspberry is the diversity that defies categorization. Classic New Orleans piano tunes (â€œBiggest Little Shrimp In Townâ€) stand alongside plaintive ballads like the wispy â€œShe Was Born In April,â€ alt-country rockers like â€œDontcha Come Runninâ€™â€ and those zydeco two-steps like â€œThe Waiting Feeling.â€Â Listening to the record from start to finish brings to mind the experience of walking through the Louisiana Jazz & Heritage Festival: you find your toe tapping in different but congruous ways. But thatâ€™s a natural synthesis for someone who spent a lifetime soaking up those sounds.
â€œI think with this record all the music of my life is coming to a natural juncture,â€ says Jordan. â€œIâ€™m into funk, Iâ€™m into Dr. John, Tom Petty and the Dead. I think this record shows that. One of the things Iâ€™m most proud of with this record and the band really is that we are touching on a lot of bases but weâ€™re not forcing any of it.â€
The albumâ€™s title comes from the song â€œHubigâ€™s Pie,â€ a barrelhouse piano tune that humorously proposes the reliably satisfying New Orleans fried pie delicacy as a an antidote for a frustrating relationship. Itâ€™s about an appreciation for the simple things in life that pull us through when the trappings and clutter are removed.
Itâ€™s the kind of swaying sing-along that likely urges a sense of solidarity among those denizens of the local pub who hung around long enough for last call. Towards the end, Jordan goes off a rant extolling the virtues of the beloved confectionaries. One particular exaltation is to â€œbring back red raspberry!â€ in reference to a rare flavor that was discontinued after Hurricane Katrina.
Indeed,Â now eight years later, life in New Orleans is still demarcated by Pre-Katrina and Post-Katrina. That things neccesarily changed forever means an instant nostalgia was created.
Sonically, Bring Back Red Raspberry is mostly good time rockers and swaying dance numbers that reveal the culmination of that Louisiana heritage. Thematically, it belies Jordanâ€™s experience too, and beneath the surface itâ€™s not quite as rosy as all that. Years of rugged touring are revealed in Jordanâ€™s gravely voice, and lyrically Red Raspberry touches on themes of regret, betrayal, frustration and yes, nostalgia. But the comforts of the past can sooth the problems of the present, and vice-versa.
â€œTelluride,â€ one of the albumâ€™s standouts, is a sweeping country road tale of risk and frustrated dreams, at once describing a perilous journey through bad weather and the rigors of eeking out a living as a traveling musician. Â Other songs touch on indiscretions and failing while others point to finding hope in the face of frustration.
Like many independent musicians these days, Jordan turned to the crowd-funding platform Kickstarter to help fund the recording and distribution of the album. But it wasnâ€™t something he was comfortable with at first.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to do it,â€ admits Jordan. â€œ I felt like a beggar. I felt like after years of being able to fund my own records or having record labels, I really didnâ€™t want to go that route. I tried to find outside funding and it never materialized. I had some friendsâ€”younger people who are much more savvy with this kind of stuff than I amâ€”told me just do it, itâ€™s gonna work.â€
And it did. With a campaign bearing the boastful title â€œI Am Gonna Make A Killer Record I Promise,â€ Jordan sought to raise $11,000 to defray the costs of studio time, manufacturing and self-distribution, among other expenses.Â Not only did he meet and exceed that goal, he was humbled by the outpouring of support from across the country, a shot in the arm that inspired him to live up to his boastful promise that also included the tagline: â€œThe album will sound like Dr. John, Tom Petty and John Prine met in south Louisiana and had an illegitimate love child. And it was me!â€
But the outpouring also helped him put the legacy of Juice into perspective. Many of his Kickstarter backers were friends and fans from around New Orleans. Others were high school buddies he hadnâ€™t seen in 20 years. But others were fans that had been touched by his music during those grueling, relentless tours with Juice.
â€œIt was an overwhelmingly awesome experience,â€ says Jordan. â€œOnce again, it put the legacy of what Juice did into light. It made me realize that there are people out there that our music has touched and they were willing to support me to make more music. Thatâ€™s an amazing feeling.â€
And while Juice didnâ€™t gain the same momentum as their brethren band Galactic, itâ€™s becoming apparent that they did make an impact on the scene and left a legacy that canâ€™t be considered lightly.
That realization came into even sharper focus with the sudden death of former Juice harmonica player/percussionist/vocalist Jamie Galloway this year. His death received an enormous flood of support and the second line parade and wake at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans garnered considerable media coverage. And that caused Jordan to reflect on the bandâ€™s history, and maybe resolve to revisit it.
â€œI think for right now, everyone in Juice has gone through some tumultuous shit in the past six or seven years,â€ says Jordan. â€œBe it dealing with Katrina, dealing with divorce, family members having health problems. Dealing with various substance abuse issues, personal health problems. Weâ€™ve all hit a few crossroads, very common to the age we are. And none of these things we should look at in a negative way, in a way that weâ€™ve failed on any level.
“We worked as hard as we could for as long as we could,” said Jordan. “I think that Jamieâ€™s death put all that in perspective and weâ€™d all like to finish this record and do some stuff. But take some time and figure it out and not just finish it to finish it. But really figure out what we want to do.â€
That reunion may come to light and may not. There will always be problems to deal with, troubles in life. The other members of Juice, like Jordan, have their own outside outlets. But in the meantime Jordan seems to have found his artistic voice, and itâ€™s one that includes insightful songs, a cadre of talented musicians with a wide swath of styles, and when he needs it, nothing more than an acoustic guitar.
For more information on Bring Back Red Raspberry, tour dates and more:Â http://www.davejordanmusic.com