word "Americana" gets tossed around rather loosely these days; it can mean
anything from a hipster with a recently-discovered acoustic guitar to a
decades-long denizen of the Grand Ole Opry. But when you set aside the
Johnny-come-rootly types from the real deal, it's a sure bet that you're going
to stray into Iguana territory. Based out of New Orleans for the past couple of
decades - save for a short, Katrina-imposed exile in Austin - the Iguanas
define a sound of Americana that crosses cultures, styles, eras... and even
Their latest album, Sin to Sin, is their first studio recording since 2008's If You Should Ever
Fall on Hard Times, and its release
coincides with their appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
"The title for the new album," says sax player/vocalist Joe Cabral,
"comes from one of the tracks we cut during the sessions that didn't make it
onto the record." At this point, the band's guitarist and vocalist Rod Hodges
picks up the trail. "It's a line from a tune called 'Blues for Juarez,'" he
says, "that goes, 'We rode the back roads from sin to sin. '"
two-decade road may not exactly have driven them from sin to sin, but it's taken
them all over the map, both figuratively and literally. While bassist Rene
Coman is the only member of the band who is a native of the Crescent City, a
languid swampiness so deeply suffuses their sound that you can almost smell the
peanut shells on the floor. But there's far more depth to it than the N'Awlins
patina that rests, sometimes lightly, sometimes heavily, on anything the city
touches. It's almost as if the Iguanas dragged sand up from Juarez and mud from
the Mississippi Delta, threw them both into the white-hot crucible of rock, and
built their foundation from there, with drummer Doug Garrison anchoring their
sound deep in the groove.
"Spanish was spoken around the house when I was
growing up," says Cabral, "but I was listening to all kinds of stuff: Herb
Alpert, Boots Randolph, country music, rock, polkas... The area of south Omaha
where I grew up was the classic American blue collar ethnic melting pot of
Irish, Italians, Poles, Mexican-Americans, who all sort of brought these pieces
into the mix."
"How could we notwind up in New Orleans?" asks Rod Hodges, a little rhetorically. "I mean, at
Tipitina's they might have Doug Sahm one night and Fela Kuti the next." And
sure enough, even on their first album (The Iguanas, Margaritaville/MCA 1993), the band was comfortable
planting Allen Toussaint's oft-covered "Fortune Teller" cheek-by-jowl with
cumbia master Celso Pina's "Por Mi Camino (Along My Way)," leading Entertainment
Weeklyto conclude, "never have
accordions and saxophones been so much in love." Peopleechoed that sentiment in their review of Nuevo
saying "any group that can turn on a dime from a gorgeous R&B ballad like
"Somebody Help Me" to the steamy tropical funk of "La
Tentacion" is clearly here to stay.
And stay they have, through half a
dozen studio albums, countless tours and Jazz Fest appearances, and a flood
that did its best to take their adopted city with it. It's a testament to the
band's longevity and endurance that they're still configured pretty much the
way they were 20 years ago, while their onetime label, MCA, has gone the way of
mousse-abused coiffures and Hammer pants.
Joe Cabral is pretty philosophical
about the band's persistence in the face of challenges that would have felled -
indeed, havefelled - lesser
bands. "First of all, this is all we know how to do; we're musicians. But more
than that," he continues, "we respect the power of the band as an entity, and
each individual in the band steps up to play his part. When it's good, that's really
what it's all about.
Rod Hodges agrees. "I don't want to get all heady and
mystical about this, but it's not really an outward reward we're looking for.
We still all enjoy playing music, we all get along, and finding a group of
people who can say that after all this time is a pretty rare thing."