On his latest CD Restless Natives New Orleans transplant Billy Iuso seems to have matured quite a bit. By focusing on songwriting and structure rather than lengthy jams that go nowhere, Iuso has crafted a nice collection of songs – a wonderful accomplishment from a member of the New Orleans jam-oriented community. He recently told me, "I'm not trying to be a 'rock star' anymore." This new, laid back, attitude shines through in the music, combining an impressive breadth of original compositions with some interesting covers. For this latest project, Iuso's Restless Natives consist of some of New Orleans' top (if not nationally known) musicians. The core band consists of Iuso on guitar and vocals, "Mean" Willie Green (Neville Brothers) on drums, Mark Pero (Papa Grows Funk) on bass, Sam Hotchkiss (New Orleans Juice) on guitar and Chris Marsceill on keys. In addition to the band, a wide array of New Orleans musicians make appearances throughout.

Iuso is cut from the "Peace through Music" cloth, an ideal which shines through in the opener, a cover of Wet Willie's "Keep on Smiling." The opening tune adds vocalist Shannon McNally and has a definite Southern tone just like the original, reminding listeners of smoky juke joints as well as sunny day outdoor festivals. In a word, it is "happy." What can I say? I like happy.

The next tune, an original named "Two Deep in the Shadows" is a swamp-a-delic rendezvous that glides down smooth and mellow. Iuso's maturing songwriting skills allow the song to feel funky but not forced. Chris Marsceill takes center stage on "Come C New Orleans," a Professor Longhair-inspired instrumental tune which would be a hit at any Carnival party. The Natives take on Little Feat's "Spanish Moon" is simply wonderful. The horn section, consisting of Kirk Joseph (Dirty Dozen) on sousaphone, Mark Mullins (Bonerama) on trombone and Satoru Ohashi (New Orleans Nightcrawlers) on trumpet, takes the song to the streets and gives it a Crescent City feel. Tamika Jett's added vocals lend some soul that fills in the sound.

"Your Just a Memory" follows. The simple song structure and heavy use of the wah-wah pedal fit perfectly together, giving the lyrics a chance to shine through and the song a chance to breathe. Iuso's time spent in New Orleans comes through in "The Heavy," a dark funk tune driven by clavinet and Ryan Plattsmier's (The Public) bass work. An interesting cover of the Grateful Dead's "The Other One" follows. I call it interesting because it strays from the original into dark and funky territory, and it does so very well.

Taking a quick left turn into instrumental jazz territory, "Da Minor Jam" features Pero's bass and drummer Bryan Besse trading licks back and forth in a tasteful show of talent. Nori Naraoka (Big Sam's Funky Nation) joins on bass as Iuso remains in mellow jazz mode for the final cut entitled "Candle," a ballad that rounds out and winds down the project. Not to leave on a mellow note, Iuso recruits Ivan Neville (Ivan Neville) and Russell Batiste (Funky Meters) for the "bonus" cut "Runnin' High," a straight-ahead funk romp that reminds me why I like Iuso's music in the first place - because he rocks!

Jeffrey Dupuis
JamBase | New Orleans
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[Published on: 1/23/05]

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