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.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.