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."
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 band mate; 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.