What comes to mind when you think of music from Louisiana? For most, probably not a whole lot. You may be aware of New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz, or the Southern Louisiana favorites of zydeco and Cajun music if you are especially shrewd. Although it is true that these genres have a huge impact on the musical culture of Louisiana, there are a surprising number of artists that do not adhere to these more “typical” Louisiana genres and can hold their own against bands and artists across the nation. I find out more and more about the rich and diverse music scene in my own backyard all the time, and just recently I was informed by a Louisiana musician and friend that many of the members of Neutral Milk Hotel, who just recently sold out the Ryman, are in fact from the quaint town of Ruston, LA. Just to give you all a little taste of what I am talking about, I have compiled a list of five artists/bands that I think give insight into a different spice that Louisiana offers.
With a name like ‘Brass Bed’, I bet you were expecting a little different sound from this band. No, there is no brass section to be found in this band. It’s okay, I have made that mistake, too. The first time I heard them live, I thought I had arrived at the wrong venue. However, I was very, very pleasantly surprised. Blending together rich harmonies with an experimental rock aura, whether they are aware of it or not Brass Bed is in many ways the children (or maybe grand-children) of groups like the Beatles or Pink Floyd. They actually come from my hometown of Lafayette, LA, and I have had the opportunity to see them a few times in a variety of settings. They never fail to put on a great show, and because it is clear they enjoy performing for you, you can’t help but enjoy watching them perform. They have a little something for everyone, from relaxed and ambient songs to anthems you can jam out to, all without losing a characteristic sound that makes them distinctly Brass Bed. That will not make sense unless you check out their other songs, which I highly recommend.
Caddywhompus provides a psychedelic rock sound, with a subtle yet powerful taste of emotion. Guitar-heavy and with high-energy drumming, this band knows how to make an impact. Even within individual songs, such as “The Weight” (above), they are able to provide astounding contrast, showing off their amazing comfort with hammering the music into the listener as well as taking a step back and letting their laid back sections do its own talking. Coming from the New Orleans area, Caddywhompus provides a very interesting contrast to the traditional scene of the Big Easy.
It is by no coincidence that Sun Hotel is on the same label, Chniquapin Records, as Caddywhompus. This label began as a cooperation of bands in the New Orleans area in 2010 and since then has helped to distribute the music of some great bands. Honestly, I could probably have filled up this top 5 just with Chinquapin artists, but I would have been missing out on some of my favorites. However, there is no compromising for Sun Hotel. Just as Caddywhompus and Brass Bed, they are able to juxtapose rocking out with softer and more relaxed sections. Every song keeps you interested because most of their work is through-composed and refrains from going back to a chorus. You realize just how ubiquitous the verse-chorus format is whenever you get the opportunity to listen to music that does not follow such a format. The lack of a chorus effects the songs lyrically as well, and the lyrics overall should be noted because Sun Hotel frontman Tyler Scurlock actually provides some substance in that category. The song above, “Suburb”, does a great job of capturing their unapologetic rock style, but I have included an acoustic performance of their unreleased song “Willow” below in order to really demonstrate the breadth of what Sun Hotel is all about.
As one of Glassnote Records’ (who have signed the likes of Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club, Chvrches, Childish Gambino, Mumford and Sons, and Temper Trap) up-and-coming stars, GIVERS has the potential to be as recognizable of a name as some of these acts. They have already been featured in a Kindle Fire Commercial and their song “Up Up Up” appears on FIFA 12 and has been covered by the cast of Glee:
Most of GIVERS hail from Lafayette, Louisiana, so once again I am throwing in a hometown favorite. This group was my gateway into the local music scene mostly because many of the members graduated from my high school not too long before I started high school. They draw their influences from styles like Cajun, Zydeco, jazz, funk, and gospel. Just like Brass Bed, I have been able to see them live several times and they never fail to put on a show (be sure to check out the facial expressions of guitarist Taylor Guarisco if you watch any of their live videos). Infusing Afro-beat influences with a modern indie pop sound, GIVERS provide an interesting and uniquely diverse sound in their album, In Light. The group cites Paul Simon as a musical inspiration, and many of their songs seem to have a Graceland-esque vibe to them. Note: If you have no idea what I am talking about because you have never heard Graceland, stop reading and listen to it. I will wait…….
As far as contemporary comparisons, I have heard many people compare them to Vampire Weekend or Dirty Projectors (a major influence for Taylor Guarisco personally), and I can see where they are coming from. One major contrast, and in my opinion one of the strongest selling points for GIVERS, is the effect that vocalist Tif Lamson has for the overall sound of GIVERS. Rich and soulful, her voice is one of my favorites in any genre. Since the release of In Light in 2011, the band has not released any additional material, but I am hoping for something to come out sometime soon.
Alright, I admit that Trombone Shorty is not as “indie” or “alternative” as the other bands on this list. I took the liberty of allowing him onto this list because even if he has heavy influences from New Orleans Jazz, which would be technically more of a typical Louisiana genre, Mr. Shorty has infused elements of hip-hop and rap into some of his music to create more of a unique style. Although still in his late 20s, Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews) is already a veteran in the local brass scene of New Orleans. A jazz prodigy, he began his musical playing career at an age before most kids can even spell “Trumbone”.
He is usually backed by a great band with an excellent horn section, such as the one in NPR video. I have seen him live at a music festival where many people in the audience are not exactly jazz or brass band enthusiasts. That did not stop Trombone Shorty and his group from making the crowd go crazy over his performance. Smooth playing, ingenious improvisation, and 4 minutes of circular breathing on trumpet is hard not to go crazy for. If this kind of genre usually turns you off, give Trombone Shorty a chance because he has done an excellent job of preserving the taste of New Orleans Street Music and bringing it to a wider audience.
Honorable Mention: Curren$y, Native America, Paper Chain People, The Alcove, Sharks’ Teeth