Saturday, June 30, 2007

Thank You Ray Stevens

I heard a song on the radio several weeks ago. The song was Louisiana (1927). I was familiar with the tune because I have a version of it sung by Aaron Neville in my CD collection. It’s an old Randy Newman composition, about the 1927 Mississippi River flood. I didn’t recognize the artist singing this new version, until the DJ said it was Ray Stevens, and it was a cut from a new tribute album to New Orleans, titled New Orleans Moon. My first thought was I had misheard the name of the artist or it was a different Ray Stevens. I mean I didn’t think it could be the Ahab The Arab singer, the country performer who wrote and sang a lot of parody songs that I listened to as a teenager!

I searched for the album on Amazon.Com and couldn’t find it. If Amazon didn’t have it, I had no idea who might be selling it. I Googled "Ray Stevens New Orleans Moon" and learned it was indeed, The Streak, Ray Stevens. The album was being released by Ray’s own record label, Clyde Records, and was currently being sold only as a download from the Itunes store. The CD would not be released until July 10.

I downloaded the eleven songs from the album. Ten of the songs were old New Orleans and Louisiana standards. They were songs I heard so many times growing up in New Orleans that they had really lost any emotional impact on me. They were background music, and only songs that tourists requested, but after listening to the first cut, I knew this album might be something special, and I was not disappointed.

I would never have imagined that Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, could bring me close to tears. It just wasn’t that type of song….that is, until Ray Steven’s version proved me wrong. The second cut, was a new song and the title cut, New Orleans Moon, composed by Ray and Chuck Redden a Gulf Coast DJ, famous for his Governor Edwin Edwards impersonation. It should easily become a New Orleans standard similar to Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, which by the way is also on the album.

I love everything about this tribute album. I have Harry Connick’s CD, My Nola, and it doesn’t come close to the emotional impact New Orleans Moon has on me. I’ve listened to this album at sometime just about every day since I downloaded it a month ago. I’ve never done that with ANY other album. It still has not lost it’s magic.

The album paints a picture of New Orleans and Louisiana in music. The musical arrangements, the backup musicians and singers, even the order in which the songs were recorded are perfect. If you are not hooked after the first two songs you don’t have an ounce of red beans and rice flowing through your veins. (The only problem with downloaded albums is there or no liner notes, so one doesn’t know the story behind the album and the names of the back up performers. You will have to purchase the CD version to get that.)

New Orleans Moon
pays tribute to Dixieland music with Basin Street Blues, as well as in Way Down Yonder; Gospel and Dixieland in When The Saints Go Marching In; Brass Band, Blues and Gospel in the St. James Infirmary/Just A Closer Walk medley and Cajun music in Jambalaya and Louisiana Man. In the Randy Newman composition, Louisiana, the choir singing the refrain “Louisiana…Louisiana” will give you goose bumps. The ninth and tenth cuts, New Orleans, a 1960 top 40 song by Gary U.S. Bonds and The Battle Of New Orleans, a Johnny Horton tune from 1959/60 are more in the “novelty” class of songs, but definitely fit in this New Orleans tribute album. Ray does a great job with them. Even if those two songs bring the emotional level of the album down a notch, the last cut, Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans, quickly brings you back to the misty eyed level of emotion and could not be a more fitting ending to the album.

What impressed me so much about New Orleans Moon is that these new versions of old standards, done with such heartfelt emotion, are not different from the originals, they are just better.

Thank You Ray Stevens!!!

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