Gregg Martinez – South of the Parish Line (2011)

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Louisiana-based Gregg Martinez presents a soul-lifting blend of blues, swamp pop and soul, powered in no small way by his canny choice of cover tunes. Some are in-the-pocket classics, others these offbeat delights. But each, in its own way, gives Martinez’s new South of the Parish Line this keen edge and weight.

For instance, Martinez — once pitched to record execs in the early 1980s as a kind of blue-eyed Teddy Pendergrass — simply blows through a rollicking take on Chuck Berry’s 1964 composition “C’est La Vie,” with a brawny brass punctuation. Less expected is “Sign Your Name,” a Top 5 U.S. hit in 1988 for pop-soul singer Terence Trent D’Arby, which Martinez plucks out of obscurity then reanimates with a soulful insistence.

Even when Martinez steps away from these brilliant interpretive successes, he remains a strong, daring presence — heartfelt when others are boastful, soulful when others simply shout. That’s best heard on his own “What Was I Thinking,” a devastating, regret-filled cry for redemption.

Elsewhere Martinez, who returned from his brief flirtation with the national spotlight to earn Louisiana Music Hall of Fame honors as a member of the Boogie Kings, brilliantly recreates two tracks from the underrated song stylist David Egan. First, there’s the mid-tempo rambler “Blueblooded Girl” (a new song about an every-day guy in love with someone above his station) and then the emotional ballad “Please No More” (outlining the final moments of a difficult relationship). There’s also a rollicking second-line joy to “Going Back to Louisiana,” originally composed by Bobby Osborne and later covered by Delbert McClinton, Bug Henderson and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, among others.

Taking another sudden left turn, Martinez includes R. Kelly’s “When a Woman Loves,” from 2010’s Love Letter, and it too somehow works. The 1974 Al Green classic “Take Me To The River” sounds less like a gospel-infused church number in Martinez’s hands than a pleasingly uncautious R&B wailer. Martinez then adds new blues tinges, and real emotion, to the crushing lament “At This Moment,” a No. 1 U.S. hit for Billy Vera in 1987 — and a capstone moment here.

In the end, South of the Parish Line, with its belly-rubbing R&B, rangy grooves and fearless attitude about song selection, is that rare blues offering that’s both individualistic and connective to the music’s history. A real find.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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