St. James Infirmary

So a couple of weeks ago I was searching Spotify for a good version of “St. James Infirmary”, a fun blues song I was introduced to a few years ago. I have heard a few versions of this song by artists such as Louis Armstrong and Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but I was immediately impressed by Allen Toussaint’s version when I stumbled across it. The simple instrumentation combined with the minor key and well-placed subtlety made it a very nice arrangement.

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The only problem here is I had never heard of Allen Toussaint and I knew nothing about him. The solution? Listen to all of his music! And I gotta tell you, he has a lot of it; this guy was making and producing music from the ’50’s up until his death in 2015.

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Not all of his music is jazz. In fact, he has done quite a bit of R&B, Soul, Funk, and Blues. Apparently he has been an extremely influential figure to New Orleans R&B and composed a number of well-known songs such as “Fortune Teller” “Ride Your Pony” “Southern Nights” (this one was featured in the recent movie Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and the frequently covered “Working In The Coal Mine” He also helped produce hundreds of fantastic songs such as “Right Place, Wrong Time” by Dr. John (one of my favorites for road trips) and the famous “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle.

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I am so glad I know all of this now! This guy has been a major player in 60’s and 70’s funk and R&B music, I can hardly believe I didn’t know him.

Of course, this does not mean I love everything he’s done. There was one particular album I listened to called Mr. Mardi Gras – I Love A Carnival Ball that was truly hard for me to sit through. Almost painful, really. I can’t even tell you exactly what I didn’t like about it, but I think it was probably a combination of musical style and instrumentation. It just sounded cheap to me, and I was glad when it was over.

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We all know I am a sucker for jazz and all of its varied forms. Jazz is at least a little bit present in or was an inspiration for many of today’s genres anyway, and I enjoy those for what they are, but there is still something special to me about listening to a small combo band playing bluesy or jazzy tunes like I would expect to find in some smoky underground bar downtown in a big city in the 50’s. Thus, the albums I enjoyed most on this journey were the ones that reflected style.

So if you are looking for a relaxing jazz album to listen to, check one of these out: The Bright Mississippi and American Tunes. There are some great tracks on those two albums such as “Singin The Blues” “Delores’ Boyfriend” “Viper’s Drag” and “Long, Long Journey”

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If you prefer to stick with R&B and Funk, check out the albums Southern Nights (really good) and Sweet Touch Of Love. As far as recommended tracks, I would have to go with “Last Train” “Victim Of The Darkness” “Sweet Touch Of Love” and “Southern Nights”

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I may have found Allen Toussaint for his jazz albums, but every time I listen to his Soul, R&B, and Funk I love it just a little bit more. He was truly a gifted composer, and I am so glad I got the chance to explore his music like this. After everything I have learned I am almost ashamed I didn’t know who he was, but then I suppose that’s kind of the point of this project, isn’t it?

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Success!

Super Rad!

The Aquabats! started as a joke band, and honestly, I really respect that. They set out to have fun more than anything else and I think that is what made them stand out so well. Their particular gimmick worked out really well for them in my opinion.

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I didn’t know much about The Aquabats! until just this past summer when I was exposed to more of their music and then had the opportunity to see them in concert. They are very fun to see live as a staple of their performances is the theatricality in their live shows. Each band member has their own super-hero identity as well as matching costumes. Villains and choreographed fights, as well as videos, are included in the performance and ultimately they are all good showmen. Their songs are fun and silly, their performance entertaining, and their attitude infectious. Altogether, you can’t really go wrong with a band like The Aquabats!

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As for their musical style, The Aquabats! definitely started out as a ska band with all the elements of the genre such as a walking bass line, off-beat rhythms, big horn sections, and driving guitar. Some other well-known ska bands to emerge from the 80’s and 90’s include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Less Than Jake, and Sublime. This wave of the genre could probably more accurately be termed as Ska Punk as it includes many Punk elements. If you like Punk at all, I suggest you give Ska a try.

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As The Aquabats! continued in their career their music evolved to include influences of New Wave, Rock, and Synthpop as well as Ska and Punk. If you listen to some of their earlier music such as “Super Rad!” or “Idiot Box!” which are both on their 1997 album The Fury of The Aquabats! you immediately hear exactly what Ska sounds like. However, if you listen to some of their later music such as “Shark Fighter!” “Hey Homies!” and “All My Money!” from the 2011 album High-Five Soup! it has an obviously more new wave and synthpop influenced sound. It seems like they traded out the horns for synth. I wouldn’t say I prefer one style over the other, they are all obviously the same band in lyrics and arrangement and are fun songs to listen to.

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The Aquabats! had a TV show for 3 seasons called The Aquabats! Super Show! I haven’t watched any of it so I can’t give you any more info on it, but from what I can tell it is full of stories about the band as superheroes, uses a mix of live action and animation, and is fairly pointless.

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If you want a good example of how ridiculous (in a good way) this band is, here’s the video for “Super Rad!” Also here is a link for “Shark Fighter!” Listen to both and notice the difference in the instrumentation between the older and newer style.

The Aquabats! are kind of ridiculous. Their lyrics are not serious in the least, their musical style is upbeat and fairly fanciful, and they wear matching spandex and domino masks. Seriously. They are a freaking awesome band. How many musicians write songs about shool pizza day or giving out hugs? These lyrics are fun, lighthearted, and singable, and you may have noticed their habit of overusing exclamation points.

All I can really say about The Aquabats! is that they are extremely fun. If you want to listen to some of their music, I recommend the following tracks: “Super Rad!” “Red Sweater!” “Pizza Day!” “Pool Party!” “Hey Homies!” and “The Legend Is True!” There are many other really good songs by this band, but those might be my favorite

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Give it a shot, I really think you’ll enjoy it! They are super rad after all!