Tonight, The New Orleans Suspects play a CD-release party at their home bar, The Maple Leaf.
Some bands make their music sound so effortless and obvious that they sound like the baseline, as if another hundred bands could make the same music at least as well if they only put their minds to it. Except as Rockpile and John Hiatt - two band/artists I've said this about in the past - demonstrate, sounding easy is hard work, and the marketplace has never been overcluttered with Hiatt and Rockpile soundalikes. Tonight and Saturday night, The New Orleans Suspects are playing a CD-release party at The Maple Leaf, and their debut album sounds like a bunch of musicians who found themselves onstage together and knocked out some covers and songs they had laying around.
The fun of the project lies largely in its selflessness. CR Gruver's piano leads a handful of songs including band-mythologizing "Oak St. Rag," but it isn't his project any more than it belongs to Willie Green or Reggie Scanlan, despite the deep grooves that tie the album together. No soloist casts such a long shadow over the album to make his voice the dominant one; instead, New Orleans Suspects genuinely sound like an ensemble.
If there's a overriding voice, it's from an era not a person. They cover Taj Mahal and Bobby Charles, and the liner notes acknowledge that the arrangement for "Money Honey" was inspired by Ry Cooder's arrangement from 1972's Into the Purple Valley. The sort of roots fusion music that Cooder, Dr. John and Little Feat were making during that period informs many of the musical decisions made by the Suspects.
In the long term, The New Orleans Suspects will benefit from a stronger point of view, one that does more than embrace New Orleans' love of funky music. A little more personality will help, but as an introduction to the band, The New Orleans Suspects is a strong, deceptive start.