No city could ask for a better native son than Harry Connick Jr.
Most of the music that Connick Jr. has released over his long career is connected to, inspired by, or representative of New Orleans.
As such, he’s got some rich roots to draw upon and he does just that .
The hard working keyboardist, vocalist and songwriter celebrates his hometown with a bouncy uptown album, Smoky Mary, that celebrates Nola’s Mardi Gras heritage.
The album is inspired by Connick Jr.’s own involvement in the celebration as a “Krewe” member (a sort of musical parade team). This album also includes much of Connick Jr.’s road/touring band, so its tight and funky – all the way through.
Connick Jr. moves off from his occasional smooth jazz persona to wade into some bright and jivey groove that features his keys as a foundation (of course) for big riffy horn sections and skipping rhythms.
You could say this album has a sunny disposition. There’s nothing serious, dark or complex (moods not music) to rain on Connick Jr.’s Mardi Gras memories. Strangely, the first track on Smoky Mary sounds like some late ‘70’s Californian shag hair and moustachioed- lite rock ala Pablo Cruise. Don’t know ‘em? No matter – harmless but fun.
From there, things go east then further south down the Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. There’s some intense jamming where Connick Jr. summons forth his funky powers to give his version of New Orleans groove gumbo. He takes elements from Tower of Power (Hurricane, Cuddina Done It) and smooths out the extremes giving the arrangements a show-time, party-down vibe. On Dang You Pretty he takes some cures from fellow gumbo musos, The Meters.
Connick Jr. and his band really stretch out and strut on The Preacher, a ping ponging, rhythmic display of off-hand confidence. They’re here to play! Yet another surprising track is Angola (At the Farm), a rollicking piano driven song with a to-the-point vocal and soulful slide and horn work.
Like the rest of the record, this song is a time/space shape shifter that has a lineage that goes backwards and forwards. It sounds old, new and fresh.
— Dean Gordon-Smith is a music reviewer based in Vernon, B.C. His column appears in The Morning Star every Friday.