by Nick DeRiso
New Life arrived amidst much anticipation of something in keeping with drummer Zigaboo Modeliste’s mythically groovetastic tenure with the Meters. And, bless him, I got it. But that wasn’t all.
Take the title track. “New Life” doesn’t mimic the expected grease-fire funk of his old band, so much as forceably combine New Orleans syncopations with a popping R&B swagger. “Human Race” sounds like Prince-meets-early-1970s-Marvin Gaye, with a nasty guitar signature, a propulsive polyrhythm and a socially conscious lyric. “Was Not Meant To Be” has the broad appeal of chitlin-circuit soul blues, but with a heavier, battered-up rhythm signature.
Sure, Modeliste includes a steamy helping a unencumbered party anthems, from the opening “Les Bon Temps Roule,” to the blues-dipped “At the Mardi Gras” — one of three songs featuring Bill Summers of the Headhunters, it includes the memorable line “a glass of wine, a tambourine, and then you’re on your way” — to the second-line hootenanny “Let It Go.”
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Zigaboo Modeliste talks about key moments with the Meters, hanging with the Rolling Stones, and how he taught himself to play by not playing.]
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Elsewhere, there are, of course, even clearer links back his time with the Meters, from “Ate Ball Waltz,” a snappy instrumental that has the same kind of grind so closely associated shotgun shack-rattling sides like “Cissy Strut”; to the angularly metallic “Keep on Groovin,’” which reunites Modeliste with bassist George Porter Jr., his former bandmate; to the kinetic “Tough Nuts,” with a rhythm that is at once elemental and almost mathematical.
Ass-shaking instant classics, each and every one. But New Life, issued by Oakland, Calif.-based JZM Records, wouldn’t have been nearly so interesting without its unexpected earlier detours into some seriously fonky R&B side roads. Modeliste shows he’s can still conjure up the Meters magic, but also that his brilliance is not confined to those old records.
Author Nick DeRiso has also explored jazz, blues, rock and roots music for Gannett News Service and USA Today, All About Jazz, Popdose, Living Blues, No Depression, the Louisiana Folklife Program and Blues Revue, among others. Named newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact Something Else! Reviews at firstname.lastname@example.org.