Kermit Ruffins: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Here's a version of a "Closer Walk" that is taken at a true walking pace, slow enough so that even grandpa can keep up with the strolling band. The connection to the New Orleans funeral parade tradition can be felt in each bar. But this isn't just a history in old time music—there are bits of modern soul and funk added into the mix. Ruffins possesses a spacious range and firm command of his horn, but he uses so much vibrato that I don't think there is any left for the rest of the band by the time he is done. The result is a track that sounds just a bit too stylized and over-the-top for my tastes, jazz for the tourists passing through town. Mary Griffin's vocal is the most authentic ingredient on this track, with a real gospel-ish delivery that is perfectly suited for the lyric.

August 31, 2009 · 0 comments


Eureka Brass Band: Just a Closer Walk With Thee

With the possible exception of Mardi Gras, no New Orleans tradition is more revered than the time-honored brass band funeral and parade. The longevity and flexibility of this institution are striking: in more recent days, hip-hop or funk oriented brass bands bring this ritual into the modern age (see example here), and often still include "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" in the mix. Looking backward, this ritual can be traced to African and early diaspora traditions, and if Samuel Floyd is correct, the famous second line of the funeral procession is merely a "straightening out" of the old ring shout. Many outsiders still scratch their heads in puzzlement at the festive tone of these processions, but one need only recall that what some see as a burial others view as a resurrection. This is fitting music indeed for passage into that proverbial "better place."

This recording captures the Eureka Brass Band back in 1951. This ensemble had been together since 1920 and kept playing until 1975, and even after that leader Percy Humphrey (also a regular at Preservation Hall) occasionally revived the group. But even this relatively authentic recording shows the tendency for this tradition to morph and modernize. Immediately after this somber hymn, the brass band launches into Gerswhin's "Oh, Lady Be Good"—a Broadway song that wasn't even composed until four years after the Eureka Brass Band was founded.

August 11, 2009 · 0 comments


Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Just a Closer Walk

Don't get too close or the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble might bite you. I got bitten, and now I can't stop playing this crazy CD over and over again. Doctor, is there an antidote? I can't help falling into a second-line march to the beat of this infectious band, and I am having visions of Mardi Gras parties out of control. Did I say infectious? Did I tell you I am having visions? This song is giving me chills, and when they double the tempo, I get the sweats. They call it a brass band, but there must be some voodoo in this music. It's all over for me, but not too late for you. Stay away from snakes, and definitely keep away from the Snake Ensemble!

July 02, 2008 · 0 comments


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