Is there no more mythologized place in this grand amalgamation of ours than New Orleans? I mean for a city magnitudes smaller than a cultural dullard like, say, San Antonio, New Orleans still manages to invigorate ones mind into visages of drunken abandon, voodoo shaman, seed underbelly and so forth. And, having spent the lion's share of my life in its shadow, his reputation is half-deserved, and half-perpetuated. New Orleans is one of those places like NYC and San Francisco that residence therein somehow earns even former denizens a certain cultural cache, a distinct pallor, and an inability to not talk about it at every opportunity. The New Orleans music scene, which one is falsely led to believe is chock full of jazz and blues at every cock of the head, is rife with groovy soulful indie rock that holds onto that patina of spookiness and makes it a dutiful motif for their songs. It is a magic city, maybe not for the reasons you are led to believe, but magic nonetheless, and its haze hangs with you if you've spent any time there.
A prime example of this can be found in former New Orleanian Molly McGuire and the debut recording by her band Yellow #5, Demon Crossing. The album is constructed, according to the press, to recreate the ambiance of local watering hole the Circle Bar, and I can say that it is pretty successful in capturing the spirit of the locals. It is at once vulnerable and pretentious, coy and preening, and is kept upright by an innate groove. The opening track is a short Tom Waits-y circus overture, but the real journey begins, like any journey in a great city, with a strut. "Auto Pilot" captures the New Orleans girl - shortish, vixenish, in a short skirt and some clunky shoes, traipsing down the street, dodging the perpetual stagnant puddles and drunken layabouts and looking fabulous, shooting off sparks of sultry malevolence to all who catch her glance. MacGuire has a Patti Smith-drama to her voice which works for this record depicting a melodramatic city, best put to task on "No Loitering" - a joke, since New Orleans is a Shangri-la of loitering.
The star of the show musically is Molly's upfront bass playing, which forms the exposed skeleton of the songs. The lycanthropic throb of "Moon Man" is the best example, and forms what I think to be the thesis of the album, its lurching slide guitar, moon-heavy bass,and thunderclap drums of ex-Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork. The other thesis track is where they out-Concrete-Blond Concrete Blond on "Jackie" - a tale of yet another casualty of too-much-life, and New Orleans is one of those places to which those in that condition seem to migrate in order to circle the drain in style (a friend in college used to use the French Quarter apartment Johnny Thunders ended his run in as his home address to avoid out-of-state tuition.)
"Lust" is the groovy-jazziest tune in the bouquet, with its walking bass and intermittent reverbed guitar bursts cracking in the air like pool balls and dropped beer bottles.Other notable tracks keeping the sexy menace flag flying are the smoky "Hair of the Dog", the cocky personal history of "ICFCFBM" meaning "Irish Catholic French Canadian Fightin' Bitchin' Machine" which should answer any questions you might have. The album closes with a cinematic slow-pan of "Deviant Angel" and the echoey opium cloud of "LA Cut Off" whose swarm of bad thoughts and hangovers transmogrifies into the circus theme from the beginning. Listening to this album is a very familiar experience to me, getting at what its like to mix with the walking dead, the hookers with hearts of gold, the dramatic yet savvy denizens of a the rotting beauty that is New Orleans.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com