The intense New Orleans trumpet player looks to go nationwide with "Redemption."
“I had to humble myself not only to sobriety but to making this record.”
Glen David Andrews is reflecting on the road to Redemption, his new album and first after a very public battle with sobriety. He has had to change his lifestyle and band, and he works to take himself out of situations where he could be tempted to backslide. He invited Anders Osborne and Ivan to perform guest spots on Redemption with him since both have dealt with addiction, and he enlisted producer Leo Sacks, who also recorded the post-Katrina New Orleans all-star project Sing Me Back Home.
Andrews will play Jazz Fest's Congo Square Stage Sunday at 12:25 p.m., and for more than a year, he sent songs to Sacks, who winnowed 30 to 40 songs down to 15. “That was a complicated experience because you think the songs you have are all good, and they’re good, but not good enough for a record,” Andrews says. When they got the list of contenders down to 15, he started playing them live to let audience response tell him what clicked and what didn’t.
Redemption announces its desire to be distinctive with its first sound - a distorted ball of noise that gives way to a heavy blues with Galactic’s Ben Ellman on harmonica. “The only thing New Orleans about this album is the artwork and me,” he says, but that’s not exactly true. There are no beignets-and-Bourbon Street songs on Redemption, and there’s not much second line or street music on the album. Still, it’s often funky and there’s a broad stripe of spirituality running through Redemption. The unifying feature is Andrews, whose intensity and garrulousness can’t be missed, even in its more placid moments. He’s owning up to who he was and is, but it’s not his style to keep that internal conversation internal or subdued.
He has never been shy about his ambition or belief in his talents, even when his behavior was counterproductive. “I’m tired of being Glen David Andrews, he’s one of the best musicians in town,” Andrews says. “I don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond. I want to swim with the sharks in the ocean.” This is his best chance, he thinks, and he has got almost every break he could get. Through Sacks’ connections, he got a number of deals including a price he could afford to sample 37 seconds of Mahalia Jackson’s voice for the track, “Didn’t It Rain.”
“Leo said, You can’t afford me. Don’t worry about money.”
Just as he put his faith in Sacks to help direct the album, he listened to cousin Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who advised him not to get caught up in the glut of releases timed to Jazz Fest that fight each other for attention, and put the album out before French Quarter Fest instead. He could have put a number of local guests on the album but chose not to to avoid having the album overly identified as a “New Orleans” album.
“I am more than New Orleans,” he says. “We know I can do the second line thing. We know that I can do the traditional jazz thing. I can do that in my sleep. But can I really allow my soul to come out on a soul record? Can I sing gospel and make it sound like a church, but not a New Orleans church? My soul isn’t filled with New Orleans music; my soul is filled with music.”
For a long time, Andrews has let his intensity do the work, seemingly prepared to power through all issues by force of will. He often started a song singing at full intensity, which unquestionably got listeners’ attention, but it left the music with nowhere to go. His Live at Three Muses album is an amazing document of a personality expressed in music, but Andrews had to detour into whatever was going through his mind because the music had no way to become more powerful.
Andrews thinks of Redemption with typical modesty as Solomon Burke meets Wilson Pickett - neither timid singers - but on his terms he has addressed that issue. “These days, I’m literally starting on one,” he says. “By the fourth or fifth song, I’ll bring you to eight, but I won’t take you to 10 until the very end of my show. I want you to constantly grow with the music.” He credits Sacks with stressing dynamics on the album, and it moves from the hard rock of “NY to NOLA” to the quieter “Chariot” to the funky “Bad By Myself.” Lyrically, Redemption moves from hard times to “Something to Believe In.”
By most people’s standards, Andrews is as extreme in recovery as he was in addiction. When we last talked, he was on his bike and about to ride from the French Quarter to Gentilly to the Lakefront to the east and his mother’s house. He now talks about his commitment to a healthy lifestyle and eating healthy and how much he spent on organic food and products. On his terms, it’s a major change.
“I went from being on 10 to bringing my life all the way down, and I love it,” Andrews says.