Julie Odell opted to play with a band Friday night at Gasa Gasa in an attempt to match the craziness of New Orleans. 

Julie Odell photo by Anne Marie
Julie Odell, by Anne Marie

The legend about Buddy Bolden was that when he blew his cornet on Claiborne and Carrolton, you could here him in the French Quarter. Julie Odell is not a cornet player, but Friday night at Gasa Gasa, her controlled, powerful voice paired with an equally passionate band attempted to be louder than New Orleans. 

The consistent energy during Odell’s set at Gasa was unexpected. Odell was born and raised in Ruston but moved to South Carolina to get away from city life. She lived on an apple orchard and wrote mellow folk songs, mimicking trickling streams and rustling leaves. On songs like “Strange Endangered Bird,” you can hear the idyllic farm life that she was living, barefoot, roaming through the grass a la Little House on the Prairie. 

New Orleans’ rowdy spirit has found its way into Odell’s music, though. Odell has lived in the city for 10 years but decided to bring a band into her shows just a year ago. Bassist Kenny Murphy and drummer Jonathan Arceneaux push Odell past her vocal limits. Tracks that were silky have evolved into powerful ballads that crescendo then dip to accentuate Odell’s vocal range. 

Odell’s songs are deeply personal. She expresses her hope and hesitance in finding love, and the confidence and fear she has as a young mother.  However, from the first beat of the base drum on Friday night, the lyrics fell out of focus. 

Arceneaux was a hummingbird as his hands moved swiftly around the drum kit. He and Odell looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes to match the other’s volume. Arceneaux has been traveling for two months, and this show marked his return to Odell’s band. Murphy rounded out the power of Arceneaux and Odell’s grandiose performance. His bass riffs fell perfectly in time with Odell’s guitar. Murphy’s precision made the group sound larger than a three piece band. While the lyrics were not prominent compared to Odell’s acoustic sets, the band made the show whole. The feelings behind her songs were gut churning. 

Odell’s vocal runs cascaded on “St Fin Barre.” Her voice hovered over the bass drum and subtle pluck of the guitar strings, slowly building in power and presences until reaching a rumble. Her effortless rifts verged on yodeling. Just when it seemed like her voice couldn’t keep up with the pounding of the drums, the chords resolved. Odell crooned over the microphone like the subtle mist at the bottom of a waterfall. The band faded out. Odell basked in Gasa Gasa’s orange light, reveling in a moment she shared only with her guitar. She sang in a gentle coo that drifted above the rumble of the street car.

Odell brought the placid aura of a South Carolina apple orchard into this hectic, lawless city. She looked to Arceneaux, then to Murphy. With a nod, the band joined back in and Odell came back to New Orleans, belting wilder than before.