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Jon Cleary: The New Orleans Collection: So Swell

Pierre Giroux BY

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Jon Cleary: The New Orleans Collection: So Swell
Newvelle Records, which was established in 2015, believes that in the digital age there is an opportunity to build a new model for the creating and distributing music. Each year, Newvelle releases a series of six albums, exclusively on vinyl, that pairs musicians with celebrated artists, writers and poets. The New Orleans Collection contains four single sleeve 180-gram clear vinyl albums, each of which was recorded in New Orleans between January and March 2020 at Esplanade Studios, a former church built in the heart of Treme.

The third album in the series is called So Swell. British born pianist and singer Jon Cleary relocated to New Orleans and built a devoted following for his hard-hitting interpretations of New Orleans R&B and funk.

If he were still alive, Stephen Foster might wonder what happened to his classic folk tune when interpreted by Cleary in "Swanee River Boogie." After laying down the four boogie beats to the bar with his left hand, Cleary stretches the keyboard with his brawny command of voicing in his transformation of an American folk classic. In his own composition "Two Wrongs," Cleary swings out in true R&B bar-band style aided by the big tone of saxophonist James Rivers. "I Call It Pretty Music (But The Old Folks Call It The Blues)" was written by Clarence Paul and Berry Gordy and was originally recorded by Stevie Wonder. Cleary delivers the story of the blues in an infectious manner and with a bluesy swagger. "Second Line On Monday" is perfectly apropos New Orleans. Composed by Chuck Carbo, the number celebrates the passing of "the best bartender in the land." In the tradition of that genre, there is a joyful exuberance to the words and music.

Side two's opener, "We're No Exception," was written by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Conceived as a hurtin' song with lyrics to match, Cleary interprets the number as an instrumental. As he is technically accomplished, he grabs control of the composition with a full two handed approach filled with delicious block chords and cadences. "I Get The Blues When it Rains" was written in 1928 by Harry Stoddard and Marcy Klauber and has been interpreted by the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Peggy Lee and The Ink Spots among others. Cleary's approach is mischievous, yet stays close to the composers' intentions, and thus is effortlessly rhythmic. The final track is "Since I Don't Have You," which became a hit in 1958 for the doo-wop group The Skyliners. There is still some of that style lurking in Cleary's offering, but he stays away from the cliches associated with it.

In an interview with Britain's The Guardian newspaper in 2016, Cleary offered the following pithy quotation : " Music isn't a choice for me. It's a bodily function."

Track Listing

Side A: Swanee River Boogie; Two Wrongs; I Call It Pretty Music; Just Because; So Swell When You're Well; Second Line On Monday. Side B: We're No Exception; I Get The Blues When It Rains; Lottie Mo; Pony Boy; Tuburculucas And The Sinus Blues; Since I Don't Have You.

Personnel

Jon Cleary: voice / vocals; James Singleton: bass; Johnny Vidacovich: drums; James Rivers: saxophone, tenor.

Album information

Title: The New Orleans Collection: So Swell | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Newvelle Records

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