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It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Carlo Ditta in keeping the best of the New Orleans music scene alive the last 30 years, both as producer, songwriter, and guitarist and also as founder and head of Orleans Records.

Coco Robichaux, Mighty Sam McClain, Marva Wright, Ironing Board Sam, Little Freddie King—they all owe him something.

Now here’s Carlo’s own, teased out over the past few years with a single here and there, and it’s a revelation, a strangely wonderful set that, at its best, melds John Prine’s wit to Tom Waits’ mouth and rocks the swamp while doing so.

It’s so offhand listeners might miss the brilliance at first, since he’s grumbling more often than singing, but thanks to both its groove and Ditta’s offhand observation, the opening title track approaches some sort of Randy Newman level of sleaze-as-art.

The rest of the album, with a track list that consistently pits originals against covers in an iron cage death match, follows suit—Carlo might as well be making it up as he goes along on his excellent and unjustly ignored 2011 single “As the World Turns,” but he’s not:

“Although it’s for eternity / some love is still maternity / and all love starts so sweet and romantically / and it all ends so silently.”

The B-side is elegant folk about the days of Louis Prima, and it’s here, too, along with “I’m Leaving You,” a Prima cover, recast with weary desperation.

That also proves his point. Mixing a sigh and a shrug with a wink and a kiss is sort of the game mechanics behind these performances; in this context, “Many Rivers to Cross” feels like the last gasp of a dying man, “Tell It Like It Is” the sound of a man whispering in his beer.

No one expected Carlo to come out and beat Tony Joe White at his own game in this science-fiction year of 2014, but his label’s always been about surprise discoveries, hasn’t it?

--- Offbeat Magazine


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