"I've never let my school interfere with my education."--Samuel Clemens
John Gros is a product of the New Orleans educational system. At the turn of the century in Storyville, New Orleans's infamous "red light" district, musicians--especially piano players--were called "Professors," famed for their ability to play a wide range of music from early jazz romps to classical waltzes. Jazz pioneers Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, and Sidney Bechet emerged from Storyville. Even Louis Armstrong got his start in these houses of ill repute--delivering coal! The ability to combine styles with a distinctive New Orleans flavor flows through generations of musicians like the mighty Mississippi, passing through piano greats Professor Longhair and James Booker.
Studying at the feet of these giants and through a half-decade under the tutelage of George Porter Jr., John Gros has come into his own, releasing his first solo album Day's End earlier this year. Known from his tenure in Porter's Running Partners during the mid-90s and the jams of Papa Grows Funk today, Gros steps into the forefront on this album as a songwriter as well as a first-class musician. Backed by Tommy Malone (subdudes) on guitar, Reggie Scanlon (Radiators) on bass, and Kenneth Blevins (Sonny Landreth) on drums, Gros' album is one of the finest to emerge from New Orleans this year.
The disc opens with "What's the Matter? Part 2, #35," a creeping tune reminiscent of Credence Clearwater Revival that conjures images of swamps, sun-bleached cypress wood, and betrayal. Switching gears from love scorned to love in bloom, the band shuffles through Van Morrison's "When That Evening Sun Goes Down" in a fashion perfect for two-stepping on worn wooden floors. "Day's End" follows, continuing the love theme, an upbeat tune about infidelity with the possibility of redemption in the chorus, "A new beginning in every sunset."
The tempo slows and emotions flare in "Roll Away," the standout track of the album. This plaintive song voices the passage of time through eyes on the Mississippi River with the grace and majesty of images very few writers have been able to capture successfully. Gros gives a wink and a nod to his predecessors with "Keep it Gwine," a solo piano track penned by Melvin Latiste. The neo-folk song "The Ground" follows, weaving a bright tapestry perfect for a road trip on a bright summer day. Rock 'n' roll invades the disc through a rollicking version of Earl King's "Make a Better World," a wonderful anthem for doing just that.
Gros slows down the pace for a cover of Dayna Kurtz' "Last Good Taste." This torch song evokes candlelight and smoky views over cocktails at 4 a.m., longing for someone who isn't there. Moving back to the juke joint from the jazz parlor, Gros belts out "Black Rider," his gravely voice buffeted by his Hammond organ swells. A final spin around the dance floor comes from "Try to Make a Stand," a Texas-style boogie rocker. Bringing it all back home, Gros closes the disc with "Toulouse Serenade," a whimsical tour of the French Quarter on a mild day--a private second-line ambling with smiles abounding. And when Gros adlibs, "I could go all night long like this, ya'll," I couldn't agree more.
JamBase | Louisiana
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