These Blue Days: Free John Boutté Song on iTunes This Week!

April 26th, 2012 by Blake

The song I wrote for John is free on iTunes this week:

And the album is on sale for $7.99:

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Treme Soundtrack & John Boutte Albums Released Today

April 17th, 2012 by Blake

Hey Now -

Today is a good day:  the first day I can share a bunch of new music that I love with everyone I know.


In case you were unaware of this, I have The Best Job In The World.  I get to hold Lucia Micarelli’s violin bow, and I get to tell Wendell Pierce “B FLAT, MOTHERFUCKER!” for real.  I am actually paid money to try and out-pedant David Simon over Fess minutiae (ain’t gonna happen), and world-famous directors thank me sincerely for standing around and listening to brilliant musicians play music.  And all that is before lunch.  In truth, the real reason it’s The Best Job In The World is because I have been privileged to witness intimately the glorious, tragic, beautiful, infuriating New Orleans Music Community in extreme close-up, and I can tell you there is nothing else like it on the planet.


It’s all here, encapsulated into a 70-minute smoke-free distillation of pure musical power, torn from the gutters and streets and bars and clubs of New Orleans circa 2011-pretending-to-be-2007.  If you have ever tried to use the men’s room at The Maple Leaf at 1am on a Tuesday night, you can see why you might be better off just listening to track 9 on this CD, “Take It To The Street” by Rebirth Brass Band.  Do you still have the scars from last year’s whipping at Cajun Mardi Gras?  This year, stay home and listen to track 14, “La Danse de Mardi Gras” by Steve Riley, Steve Earle, & The Faquetaique Mardi Gras.


Seriously, this album is a living, breathing slab of real New Orleans musical life.  It’s available everywhere music is sold, today.  Here’s the track list:


  • 1 New Orleans After The City – Hot 8 Brass Band
  • 2 From The Corner To The Block – Galactic, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Juvenile
  • 3 Carved In Stone – The Subdudes
  • 4 Sisters – John Boutté
  • 5 Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most – David Torkanowsky & Lucia Micarelli
  • 6 Heavy Henry – Tom McDermott
  • 7 Mama Roux – Henry Butler
  • 8 What Is New Orleans? – Kermit Ruffins and The Barbecue Swingers
  • 9 Take It To The Street – Rebirth Brass Band
  • 10 Road Home – DJ Davis & The Brassy Knoll
  • 11 Oye, Isabel – The Iguanas
  • 12 Long Hard Journey Home – The Radiators
  • 13 Carnival Time – Al “Carnival Time” Johnson & The Soul Apostles
  • 14 La Danse de Mardi Gras – Steve Riley, Steve Earle, & The Faquetaique Mardi Gras
  • 15 Ferry Man – Aurora Nealand & The Royal Roses
  • 16 Frenchmen Street Blues – Jon Cleary
  • 17 Hu-Ta-Nay – Donald Harrison & Friends
  • 18 You Might Be Surprised – Dr. John



About a year ago, John Boutté and I were sitting in his 7th Ward garden when we had a simultaneous epiphany: let’s make a record together.  It really happened like that – at the same moment we both independently had the same idea.  And since that day, the entire process of creating this music has worked just the same way.  Everything as it was meant to be, and I’m pretty sure the end result is as good as anything either of us has ever done.  I can’t wait for everyone to hear this record!  Here are some notes about the tracks:


1. These Blue Days
I wrote this song for John last spring, while Harley was teaching Annie how to write a song (“I wrote a song, bitches!”).  It was the first thing we recorded for the album, and we knew it was all going to work out after that.


2. Take Me To The River
Memphis comes down to New Orleans… Kirk Joseph is killing it playing Tina Weymouth’s bass line on sousaphone, and Cleary’s B3 is speaking in tongues.
3. No, No (The River)
We tried to re-create the Barthlomew/Fats song faithfully, and this is what happened.  A whole lot of saxophones, all playing in unison.  Tom McDermott’s ivory tickling is way different from Fats on the original, but equally satisfying in its own way.

4. The Grass Is Greener

A previously unreleased Dave Bartholomew tune, with lyrics re-written in our songwriting lab.  I asked Dave’s son Don if he had any unreleased songs we might use, and he gave us a version of this.  A classic Bartholomew groove, but John wasn’t feeling the original words which were a litany of romantic betrayal.  So we decided to re-write it as a pro-NOLA anthem.  Also, I wanted to write some lyrics where “New Orleans” was pronounced in a song the way people say it, rather than “New Orleeeeeens,” the way most songs sing it.  Trombone Shorty and his brother 12 Andrews take some amazing horn solos on this track.
5. War Is All Over
Allen Toussaint gave John a dozen un-recorded tunes to consider, and we picked this one out of the amazing embarrassment of riches.  The crowd vocals on the chorus include my daughters Aiko (8) and Ryo (5). Hey Barack Obama, you should license this as the official song for the 2012 Democratic Convention.


6. All Around The World
The most straight-ahead tune on the album.  After having the Yamaha grand piano at The Music Shed tuned for the recording session, Cleary decided instead to play the out-of-tune clunky upright, which gave the whole song a gorgeous spontaneity.


7. A Thousandfold
An instantly-classic Paul Sanchez song.  Paul knows how to walk the fine line between poignant and sappy like few others. We decided to record this as a rock-steady tune, which momentarily confused some of the New Orleans musicians, but worked out well in the end.


8. Heaven’s Door
As an admirer of Alex McMurray’s song writing, I asked him if he had anything that might be good for John?  As a matter of fact, he had this thing on the shelf he had been thinking might be perfect for John, but he had never found the opportunity to ask him.  ”Heaven’s Door” is the result.  Dr. Michael White’s clarinet raises this to another level.


9. All About Everything
We were thinking about doing a song or two sung in Spanish.  I asked historian/writer/musicologist Ned Sublette if he had any thoughts about repertoire, and he said, “Don’t have John sing in Spanish! Do a classic Spanish or Portuguese song translated into English!” After a long evening arguing the relative merits of Nat King Cole, Caetano, translations, musical interpretation, beer vs. rum, Cuba vs. Brasil, etc etc, Ned sat down with my Les Paul and sang his translation of the Chico Buarque song “Sobre Todas As Coisas.”  I was stunned, and knew right away that it could be the centerpiece of the album.  We had to work this song very carefully, and actually recorded it several times before arriving at the perfect balance of elements.


10. Lush Life
I thought John should sing a very difficult epic jazz standard on the album, and this seemed like a natural fit.  People had asked him to sing it over the years, but he never had.  Wary of aiming high and failing, but ultimately more scared of chickening out, we “took on the monster” as Donald Harrison described it.  Donald Harrison, David Torkanowsky, Herlin RIley, Roland Guerin, and John Boutté, all at their finest, together.  I am not objective on this subject, but this is now my favorite version of this song ever recorded.


11. Hallelujah
Talk about taking on the monster.  Leonard Cohen himself said something like “Please don’t record any more versions of Hallelujah.  K.D. Lang has it covered.”  But the song is a favorite of Boutté fans, and it is so damn fun to play, and sing.  I knew that if we did it we would have to bring it down to New Orleans, and make it the equal of any other version.  I think we succeeded in that, with the help of the magnificent Opera Creole choir, and again, Jon Cleary’s exquisite musical chops.


12. See You On The Other Side
New Orleans musicians, doing what they do… how can you go wrong?  Herlin Riley playing an exploded funeral dirge beat, Matt Perrine taking it home on the Sousaphone, Tom McDermott hammering calculus equations at the piano, and John Boutté bidding us farewell in that sweet, stirring, angel/devil voice.  I’d follow him anywhere, and I did, and you can too.

So that’s why today is a good day.  Please re-distribute all of this far and wide, spread the word, enjoy and share the music.  I really believe in both of these records, as I believe in the power of music.




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Blake Leyh Interview on WBGO

November 27th, 2010 by Blake

Mr. Josh Jackson is the guy who said some really smart things about Treme on NPR’s A Blog Supreme. He also wrote the track notes for the soundtrack CD. To coincide with the release of the CD, Josh interviewed me for his WBGO show The Checkout. You can hear the entire 20-minute interview, which includes some good excerpts of the music, right here.

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The N Stands For Nuance

June 4th, 2010 by Blake

I’ll be on NPR’s Talk of The Nation on Monday June 7th at 2:40pm EST, talking about the music on Treme. Hopefully I won’t humiliate myself by saying something stupid or getting my facts wrong… like, say, in the HBO promo piece where I rambled on about how Charles Brown gave birth to Rock ‘n’ roll when he recorded Good Rocking Tonight in New Orleans a couple of blocks from the original site of Congo Square. Duuhhh. That would have been Roy Brown.

**UPDATE** There’s an audio file of the interview on the NPR site here. I haven’t listened back to it, but I think it went ok?

**UPDATE #2** I always get something wrong. This time it was saying that Megan Lewis did an incredible job casting Lucia Micarelli as Annie. Eric Overmyer set me straight like this:

David Mills really deserves all the credit for Lucia. We had a discussion and the consensus was we needed a real musician — and being the internet nerd he was, he found a half dozen violinists on you tube, including Lucia. Alexa Fogel brought them to New York, along with some choices of her own. But we all, including Alexa, fell in love with Lucia. So, that’s his legacy, and he really deserves the credit.

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Additional New Orleans Music Sources

May 29th, 2010 by Blake

During the first weeks I was working on Treme I was asked to make a compilation CD and a list of additional music sources for the actors and other key members of the creative team. The idea was to give them a way to familiarize themselves with New Orleans music, as many of them had not had much exposure. So I made a single CD of “The New Orleans Canon.” Not necessarily the best music, but some versions of the songs that most people in NOLA know. Here’s the tracklist for that compilation:

1. Oh! Didn’t He Ramble (excerpt) – Jelly Roll Morton
2. St. James Infirmary – Preservation Hall Jazz Band
3. When the Saints Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong
4. Do You Know What It Means… – Louis Armstrong & His Dixieland Seven
5. Walking to New Orleans – Fats Domino
6. I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino
7. Carnival Time – Al Johnson
8. Jambalaya – Clifton Chenier
9. Meet The Boyz On The Battlefront – Anders Osborne & Monk Boudreaux
10. Indian Red – Chief Bo Dollis of the Wild Magnolias
11. Handa Wanda – Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias
12. They All Asked for You – Milton Batiste & Mardi Gras Big Shots
13. Big Chief – Professor Longhair
14. Jock-A-Mo – Sugarboy Crawford
15. Tipitina – Professor Longhair
16. Hey Pocky A-Way – The Meters
17. Mother-In-Law – Ernie K-Doe
18. Li’l Liza Jane – Kermit Ruffins
19. Mardi Gras In New Orleans – Tuba Fats’ Chosen Few Brass Band
20. I’ll Fly Away – New Birth Brass Band
21. Just a Closer Walk With Thee – Trombone Shorty

And here’s the list of additional music sources… bear in mind that one stipulation was that all of the music I recommended should be available online and through iTunes. That narrowed the field enough to make the task possible. What would you have put on the list?

TREME – Additional Music Notes and Sources
March 3rd, 2009

When in New Orleans, the best place to buy music is:
The Louisiana Music Factory
210 Decatur St. (Near Canal St)
(504) 586-1094

Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans
This is one of the best New Orleans compilations currently available (only on CD, not downloadable). Four discs plus a great 84-page book of notes and photos.
Available from The Louisiana Music Factory for $59.99 here:

Some classic recordings, all available from iTunes, Amazon, and Louisiana Music Factory:

Brass Band:
Rebirth Brass Band – Do Whatcha Wanna
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band – Voodoo
The Treme Brass Band – Gimme My Money Back

Classic/Historical New Orleans Jazz
Jelly Roll Morton – The Pearls
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band – Louis Armstrong and King Oliver
Louis Armstrong – The Complete Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings

New Orleans R&B
Fats Domino – The Fat Man
Professor Longhair – New Orleans Piano
The Meters – The Very Best of The Meters
Ernie K-Doe – Burn! K-Doe, Burn!
Dr. John – Dr. John’s Gumbo
The Neville Brothers – Fiyo on the Bayou
Allen Toussaint – The Allen Toussaint Collection
Irma Thomas – Live! Simply The Best

New Orleans Blues
James Booker – Classified
James Booker – Junco Partner
Champion Jack Dupree – Back Home In New Orleans
Earl King – Earl’s Pearls

Contemporary/New Orleans Jazz
Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes (From the Underground)
Doc Cheatham – Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton
Donald Harrison – Spirits of Congo Square
Henry Butler – PiaNOLA Live

Mardis Gras Indians
Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias – I’m Back at Carnival Time
Donald Harrison and Dr. John – Indian Blues

For an in-depth look at the brass band scene, an excellent book is:
Keeping The Beat on The Street by Mick Burns
Available from Amazon and Louisiana Music Factory

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Hear That Long Snake Moan

May 26th, 2010 by Blake

If you want a deep, funky, mind-expanding primer on the music of New Orleans and it’s history, you can’t do much better than Michael Ventura’s 1985 essay Hear That Long Snake Moan. It was first published as part of Ventura’s book Shadow Dancing in The U.S.A., and I read it around the time it came out. But I was too young to relate to it fully, and I hadn’t ever been to New Orleans, so I think for the most part it left me scratching my head.

But last year Holly Bentdsen (the singer from The Pfister Sisters) reminded me about it and sent me a copy. Holly said it was the best thing she had ever read about New Orleans music. I read it again and it blew my mind. Here’s an excerpt:

So. We are in New Orleans, circa 1890. We know the depth and range of the African metaphysic as it is alive in the black culture of that moment. The twentieth century is already taking hold. Congo Square has been empty for fifteen years, to become a quiet park and then, in our day, a sports auditorium. (That Indian holy ground seems destined to be the place where people release themselves in abandon.) Bayou St. John and Lake Pontchartrain have seen the last time that thousands would gather in a Voodoo celebration. What observers would describe as genuinely African drumming and dancing would continue in New Orleans into the first part of the twentieth century, but it would no longer be focal to the life there. The African metaphysic was about to blend with black-American needs, European instruments, and Euro-American musical forms to create the first great wave of American music.

The brass band was already an American tradition when Sousa’s marches swept the country in the 1890s. In New Orleans, the brass band blended with another living African tradition, vivid in Voodoo: ancestor worship. Not to hire musicians, not to sing, not to feast at a death, would have been sacrilegious. The liturgy was Christianist now, but the impulse for the ceremony was African – or, to use another word, pagan. For it is no accident that what most closely resembles an old New Orleans funeral is an Irish wake – these are the two modern cultures that are most in touch with their non-Christian roots.

The more socially acceptable, light-complexioned, and financially well-off Creole musicians – many of whom came from free people of color and not from slaves – tended to play their instruments “correctly,” to read music, and to play for white functions. The darker, poorer, slave-rooted Negroes – as they were called at the time, distinguishing them from Creoles – played a very different music, closer both to Africa and to the blues. These were the people who came directly out of the Congo Square dances and the Lake Pontchartrain celebrations, and they played their Western instruments with the simultaneity, interchange, and percussive force of African music. They looked to their instruments for a different sound entirely, and got it. They played a lot of blues – which was the sound Africans had created when, in the United States, they had been deprived of their drums, forbidden to sing their tribal songs, and usually even forbidden, during slavery, to have their own Christianist churches. The blues was everything African that had been lost, distilled into a sound where it could be found again. And the blues was the losing and the finding, as well. One man could play the blues. So it was a form that allowed one man to preserve, add to, and pass on what in its native form had taken a tribe. Its beat was so implicit that the African, for the first time, didn’t need a drum. The holy drum, the drum that is always silent, lived in the blues. One man with a guitar could play the blues and his entire tradition would be alive in his playing. Louis de Lisle “Big Eye” Nelson, considered the first man in New Orleans to play a “hot” clarinet, told Alan Lomax from his final sickbed in the 1940s, “The blues? Ain’t no first blues. The blues always been. Blues is what cause the fellows to start jazzing.”

You can download the entire 32 page essay from Michael Ventura‘s site here. Read it and weep. And then let’s talk about it.

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Why Blog Again?

May 18th, 2010 by Blake

Why blog again? Why now? The short answer: David Mills made me do it.

The long answer… I’ve had a web site in some form continually since 1994, and I guess I blogged a bit before the word even existed. Then about five years ago, a new kind of blog appeared: a music blog with links to downloadable mp3s. Inspired by Soul Sides and a few other similar blogs, I started The Ten Thousand Things. It was quite exhilarating for a while, posting an extremely eclectic batch of music, digitizing my vinyl, getting into discussions about music with a group of loyal readers. At the peak, I was posting most days and thousands of people were reading and listening.

But then I got really busy. And the landscape of the Web changed. Mp3 blogs were a dime-a-dozen. My inbox was clogged with requests for old posts and mediocre pitches from indie labels. And the wars over drm and “piracy” heated up. It became less fun, and I realized I was running out of ideas. So the blog dried up for the most part.

Last year I started working as the music supervisor on Treme, and I thought about blogging again. Then one day at the end of an email exchange with David Mills, he said:

By the way, I recently discovered your blog. I digs, I digs! Downloaded the version of “St. James Infirmary” you cut with Davis. Hope you return to blogging at some point. I believe in it as a cultural happening.

David was a writer on Treme and The Wire, among many other extraordinary accomplishments, and he had a sensational blog called Undercover Black Man. So it meant something when he said that. A couple of weeks later he died suddenly on set from an aneurism.

So here we are. This will not be a blog about posting mp3s. I will not be sharing any spoilers or propriety information about Treme. And it is absolutely not a place for pitching music to me. But if you want to talk about New Orleans and the music, about the history, or about other things that the show brings up, let’s go.

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