So what does TICONDEROGA, the new record from New Orleans Morning 40 Federation, sound like? Thats the million dollar-question isnt it? Well, heres our ten-dollar answer. Dig it:
Lets call the time reverse magic hour, that maybe half-hour of grace between when the darkness of the pre-dawn gives way to full blast sunshine, when the colors of the greenery shrouded shotgun houses are weirdly muted and vibrant at the same time. Youre standing on a deserted street; tree roots crack the sidewalks and old cobblestones show through the blacktop. Its steaming hot already despite the early hour (the humidity hasnt dipped below 100 percent all week) and the air is alive with the tropical hum of insects. When you take a deep breath of the heavy, wet air, the odors that assault your nose -- garbage, river water, puke and urine, jasmine and honeysuckle, and the tangy odor from a coffee-roasting warehouse -- create a weirdly invigorating stench cocktail.
The previous nights a blur. You have no idea whose place it was that you woke up at, or what happened to the girl who brought you there. You only remember coming to on a couch and nodding hello to the glassy-eyed guy watching cartoons in the living room with stoned patience. But even though youre feeling the indelicate first touches of a wicked hangover, your eyelids are sticking and your pits are stinking, you feel like a king because on your way out you managed to snag a crumpled pack of smokes and a tallboy of beer from the fridge.
And as you make your crooked walk on home, you accidentally pass one of your favorite bars. Its still open, and Ernie K-Does Here Come the Girls is rocking on the jukebox. Inside, a couple of cats you know are still going strong from the night before. Your friends yell slurred greetings and before you know it, youre heading to another joint, sitting on some fools handlebars and singing at the top of your lungs as the squares going to work give you and your pals the stinkeye. Goddamn if it aint another glorious, jacked-up dawn in New Orleans. THATS what TICONDEROGA sounds like.
The Morning 40 Federation was born and bred in New Orleans Ninth Ward neighborhood, formed in 1997 as a drunken quasi-dare by Josh Cohen and Space Rickshaw, amateur saxophonist and trombonist, respectively. They hung the name on their rough assemblage of amateur musicians/pro-drinkers as a sardonic admission of non-guilt. They didnt know how their way around their instruments (It sounded like I was strangling a goose, Cohen says of his first forays into the wild world of alto sax), and their first gigs took place at house parties and off-night in bars like the Hi Ho Lounge, were more like sweaty demolition derbies soundtracked by some righteous feedback than actual concerts.
But despite their best intentions, the 40s began to develop honest-to-goodness chops. Their sound -- a mutant hybrid of punk, jazz and what New Orleans old-timers call fonk coalesced. Their gigs got sharper without losing their anything-goes, gang-of-stinky-swamp-things onstage vibe, and they acquired new members: guitarist Bailey Smith was recruited in a Decatur Street dive his first night in town; guitarist Ryan Scully was shanghaied pirate-style from a life of playing cosmic country music, And by God, you could DANCE to their music, thanks to Mike Andrepont and Steve Calandras booze stumblin rhythm section.
But it was their songs that put em over. The 40s specialized in hilarious chronicles of boozy camaraderie, tales of the assorted noble lowlifes, space cadets and other crazies that populate the parallel universe version of New Orleans nightlife far off the beaten tourist path. Two self-produced CDs 2000s YOUR MY BROTHER and 2002s TRICK NASTY started racking up regional awards, and in 2004, the band signed with M80 and released the self-titled MORNING 40 FEDERATION.
But TICONDEROGA is their dirty masterpiece. Recorded last summer with Mark Bingham (R.E.M.) at his Piety Street Studios in the Ninth Ward, its is a vivid snapshot of what the Morning 40s world. From the drunken prom slow jam Washing Machine to the bubblegum funk of Corkscrew, its a raucous party record AND a bittersweet pre-Katrina time capsule, an album that preserves a New Orleans that was and -- god willing and the levees dont bust (again) -- might be again. The Morning 40 Federation are hard at work helping to rebuild New Orleans by not giving up on it, by continuing to live and to work there, and by getting loaded and shouting boozy, noisy love songs in its honor. On their behalf, we invite you to shout along with them.