Peter Novelli’s Louisiana Roots and Blues works like a one-album tour through much of the tangy musical milieu that makes that part of the world such an intriguing aural experience, from slinky zydeco two-steps to stinging blues rock, from winking swamp-boogie to angular Crescent City grooves.
It’s like Little Feat, except more rooted in the French Quarter’s slanted streets. Novelli, of course, isn’t a native. But, as the saying goes, he got to New Orleans as soon as he could.
Louisiana Roots and Blues shows just how completely he’s immersed himself into the musical atmosphere, intrigue and delights found there. Appearing with a crack core band that includes keyboardist Joe Krown (Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown), bassist Chris Chew (North Mississippi Allstars) and drummer Darryl White (Tab Benoit and Chris Thomas King), Novelli tears through a dizzying variety of tangy textures, often thanks to the addition of a just-right guest voice: There’s the grinding menace of Chris Thomas King’s slide (on “Dyin’ by Numbers” and “Elysian Breakdown”), and the swamp water-soaked accordion of Chubby Carrier (“Zydeco Lady”). Shamarr Allen’s trumpet also adds a resolute melancholy to “Treme 3 a.m.” Pianist Gordon Minette and vocalists Elaine and Lisa Foster round out the roster.
But Novelli, both as a singer and guitarist, remains the project’s central voice — primarily because he’s just as malleable, switching from a growl to a serrated blade in a moment’s notice.
He can appropriate the sharp wit of Randy Newman one moment, the tough blues shout of Tab Benoit the next, and the wistful romanticism of Allen Toussaint the moment after that. All the while, he’s riffing with a similarly layered sense of emotion. He’ll jab as often as lays back into a spell-binding melodicism, as on standout cuts like “Shadow Man.”
There was a lot of live up to, with a title as sweepingly inclusive as this one. Novelli has the goods.