Professor Porkchop and the Dirty Dishes – U R My Everything (2013)

As Professor Porkchop’s album rocks and sways, there is much to be said about the music. U R My Everything weaves in every thread in the crazy-quilt tapestry of sounds associated with Louisiana — from slinky R&B to boisterous street jazz to grease-popping blues.

The title track, for instance, is this tasty gumbo of styles: An urbane Steely Dan-ish cadence and this growling guitar burnish Porkchop’s confidential, heartfelt lyric. Even the professor’s turn on the organ works like a combo plate: Gurgling, then propulsive, he slashes like Jimmy Smith and then grooves like Richard Holmes.

I kept coming back, however, to those vocals. For me, U R My Everything serves as a definitive primer on Porkchop’s ever-adaptable singing style.

On the piano-driven lament “Blame It On The Moon,” he displays the wry sense of fatalism that will be familiar to Randy Newman fans. Later, Porkchop switches to a gravel-gargling approach on “Junkie for Your Love” and you just know, somewhere, Tom Waits has a twinkle in his eye. Porkchop slips into Ray Charles’ “Roll With My Baby” with a remarkable ease, too, approaching the tune with a slow-cooked salaciousness.

Of course, anyone who knows this talented singing keyboardist by his real name (Chris McCaa) will remember his contributions in a similarly varied assortment of Bayou State bands over the years, from the brawny soul bunch A-Train to new-wave synthsters Insatiables, early hitmakers on MTV.

He’s clearly made a few talented friends along the way. Guitarist Jason Coffield and Porkchop tangle with a spooky riff on “Junkie for Your Love,” before bassist Rick Willis and drummer Danyelle Bryant settle into a shambolic, twilight-filled rhythm. The lip-smacking “Roll With Me Baby” is made complete by George Hancock’s rollicking sax. Elsewhere, Porkchop and Co. stamp through the second-line shout “Move to New Orleans,” with Brady Blade’s undulating rhythm setting a festive atmosphere for a series of chicken-picking flourishes by Coffield.

Together, they deftly bolt into jazz styles, as Porkchop tip-toes through a maze of Scott Joplin-esque piano figures on “Sprague Street Rag,” then swings like mad on the flute-driven fusion number “Puerto Rican Hotel.” Sprinkled in between are happy-go-lucky passes at a couple of songs from the Louis Jordan songbook, “Knock Me a Kiss” and his classic “Early in the Morning,” which jukes and jives along like a side-alley parade.

All along the way, Porkchop keeps reclaiming the spotlight, though, despite all of the musical pyrotechnics going off around him. He sings with a broken majesty on the churchy “Can’t Stop Thinkin,'” and then — to close things out on U R My Everything — unleashes a menacing, low levee moan on the grinding blues “I’m Gone.”

See, Porkchop doesn’t just hold his own. He turns this project into a tour-de-force vocal showcase.

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Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock 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 nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.