Album Review: Del McCoury Band & Preservation Hall Jazz Band – American Legacies
Bluegrass and Dixieland jazz may, upon first glance, seem rather different from one another, but they do have several common traits, such as a shared love of improvisation. In addition, as their names suggest, both genres grew out of specific regions and remain linked to those regions and their people. These shared characteristics are part of why the Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s collaboration is such a wonderful listening experience as the two groups explore their musical traditions and find common ground. It’s also because the entire album sounds as though the musicians are having so much fun that the listener can’t help but be pulled along.
The Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band collaborated before, on a track for a benefit record. Here, they once more blend their sounds, bringing Bourbon Street to the Blue Grass State on a dozen tracks both old and new. The Hank Williams classic “Jambalaya” is served up so wonderfully that you can almost taste the crawfish pie and filé gumbo as Del’s singing soars over the impeccable PHJB horns (courtesy of Mark Braud, Charlie Gabriel, Clint Maedgen, Frank Demond, and Ben Jaffe) and son Ronnie’s mandolin. Classic jazz gets some love too, with a raucous version of the standard “Milenberg Joys,” which has been recorded (under slightly different song titles) by artists like the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Jelly Roll Morton, and, well, Bill Monroe. Spiritual songs, another shared element of both forms of music, is explored on the joyfully noisy “I’ll Fly Away,” on which McCoury’s high lonesome voice alternates with saxophonist Clint Maedgen’s soulful vocals that sound straight from a church pew.
The banjo—whether it’s a tenor banjo or the five-string—is no stranger to jazz, and the banjo work on American Legacies is one of its high points. Rob McCoury is joined on a handful of tracks by Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Carl LeBlanc, a skilled musician who has played with artists like Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint. On the rollicking instrumental “Banjo Frisco” (composed by Del), Rob and Carl intricately weave their way through horns and piano; it’s a good-natured toetapper, and banjo geeks should thrill at the chance to hear those two men on a recording together.
Every song on American Legacies is simply delightful. The strength of the music as well as the uniqueness of this collaboration between two bands that are at the top of their respective fields, makes the record a must-listen as well as a frontrunner for Musical Event of the Year. Might your more hardcore traditionalists of either genre raise a few objections to American Legacies? Perhaps. But as Pres. Hall’s Clint Maedgen sings in the album opener, the bands “came to play/Sweep up the ashes/Get out the way.”
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