Take two cups of ingenuity, toss in a hearty sprinkling of originality, add a pound of smokin' instrumentation, a few shakes of good rhythm, a dash of spicy lyrics, and you've got a great batch of File Gumbo.
The five-man zydeco band sounds like it's from somewhere deep in the heart of New Orleans, but sounds can be deceiving. Like Californian John Fogerty, this group from the far North (Seattle, Washington) has assimilated swamp music from the deep South so well it's a wonder the state hasn't started exporting collard greens instead of apples. Members Doug Bright, Orville Johnson, Marc Bristol, Will Peoples and Robert Merrihew, along with guests Joel Tepp and Joe Anderson put plenty of flavor in File Gumbo with a variety of ingredients: accordion, slide and electric guitars, harmonica, clarinet, bass, drums, washboard and shaker.
The group's repertoire, while not always "true" zydeco, is a recipe for success too, and includes standards by some weighty songwriters: Domino and Bartholomew's "Tu M'as Fait Marcher Plancher'' ("You Got Me Walkin' the Floor"), Sonny Landreth's "Congo Square" and a decent rendition of Naomi Neville's (Allen Toussaint) "It's Raining." They've also got a few peppy originals, such as "Too Close for Comfort" and "Makin' Sweet Love to You." One of the best tracks on the CD, though, is a steaming version of the oft-covered "Little Liza Jane." If this number doesn't have you snapping your fingers and tapping your foot, call the coroner.
"Mardi Gras in New Orleans" is only the fourth album for the Seattle Band, but it's fresh, it's hot, and it's filling. There's no reason not to add a little File Gumbo to your plate. Let's hope they come up with some extra helpings soon.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Patrick O'Donnell, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.