The Music of New Orleans

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Carnival season might almost be over, but the music of New Orleans plays on. Loose, funky, and intelligent, New Orleans music is distinct and powerful. Nothing else sounds quite like it. Here, we take a brief look at a few of the musicians who have helped to shape the city’s thriving music scene.

With our collective love of funk and soul, The Meters remain on heavy rotation within the office. Forming in 1965, The Meters became a pioneering band within the funk genre. Although they may not have reached significant mainstream success, they were one of the first bands to blend the genres of classic R&B, jazz and soul into a single form. Nearly all of their songs were instrumental; putting emphasis on organic and complex rhythms. Their song, “Cissy Strut” is considered a funk classic, which features tight melodic grooves and a few head-nod inducing guitar riffs.

Art Neville was a founding member of The Meters and played in the group until it disbanded in 1977. After The Meters, Art Neville went on to form The Neville Brothers with his three siblings. The Neville Brothers are never too far from the top of every list of New Orleans’ most influential bands and musicians. The city is a cultural crossroads and many influences can be traced in the Neville Brothers’ music — Cajun, Caribbean, African and folk. Although the group mostly experienced regional success during the early years of their formation, it wasn’t until the 1989 release of Yellow Moon that they gained a dedicated national following. This album is as good as it gets when it comes to breaking into the mainstream without losing your formative roots. Yellow Moon showcases Aaron Neville’s heartfelt tenor vocals, and features a tracklist that is a blend of original and cover songs delivered in the signature Neville style that could have only emerged from the Crescent City.

The New Orleans music community is one that is incredibly tightly woven, and this characteristic leads to many interesting connections. One such connection is between the Neville Brothers and Dr. John. Paul Howrilla was a New Orleans music executive that served as the CEO of Neville Productions, Inc., and was also the personal manager for Dr. John. With a career that continues to span over half a century, Dr. John is the embodiment of New Orleans music. His musical arrangements borrow elements from blues, rock, jazz and zydeco that are topped off by his unmistakable vocal delivery.  Key tracks from Dr. John include “Right Place, Wrong Time,” “Locked Down” and “Revolution.”

There are many bands that were formed outside of New Orleans that pay homage to the city’s musical influence. Little Feat was formed in Los Angeles and has gone through many incarnations, both in lineup and in sound. The band’s third and most successful album, Dixie Chicken, closely follows the sound of New Orleans. While their previous albums were much more rooted in country and blues, Dixie Chicken is laid back and distinctively funkier; a must listen in their discography.

Another band that closely follows New Orleans’ musical tradition is Richmond’s own No BS! Brass Band. Brass is a quintessential element of the New Orleans’ sound – from the city’s groundbreaking roots in jazz to the blaring street parades. No BS! Brass Band has achieved an iconic following within Richmond, and the energy that they put into their live shows guarantees a great time. Take a look at the band’s Tiny Desk Concert from NPR Music to see what we mean. If you ever have the opportunity to see No BS! Brass Band perform, we highly encourage you to attend.

New Orleans is a truly remarkable city that has given many cultural gifts to the world, including its music. Once inside of the city, it feels as if music is pulsating from every corner. Music is part of its culture; it’s the heartbeat of the city.

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For a sampling of the many great musicians from New Orleans, we put together Cajun Moon. Listen to the complete playlist on Spotify.

One comment

  • One of the engines that drives the NOLA music scene and Mardi Gras (to tie two of your recent blog posts together) is the middle school and high school music programs and marching bands. Mardi Gras provide a venue for the bands to perform. In turn, the bands turn out the folks who make the music scene here what it is. Look into the background of many New Orleans musicians and you’ll find they went to a middle school or high school with a strong music program.

    Check out “Edna Karr vs St. Augustine” or “O Perry Walker” on youtube.

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