Kermit Ruffins

Happy Talk

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It's no secret that New Orleans is a melting pot, a nexus that mixed African, Cuban, Native American, and European music to create a distinctive rhythm and attitude that can be found nowhere else in the U.S. New Orleans is the only city in American with a distinctive sound, and while you may not be able to describe it, you know it when you hear it. Even in a city known for musicians with a unique take on things, bandleader and trumpet player Kermit Ruffins stands out for his wide-ranging stylistic approach. Happy Talk tackles everything from low-down blues to Dixieland, with Ruffins well-known panache. "If I Only Had a Brain," from The Wizard of Oz, is given a Latin tinge by Herlin Riley's inventive percussion work. Ruffins sings the lyric simply, then gives the band plenty of room to explored the tune's changes with fine solos from Ruffins, Riley, trombonist Corey Henry, and pianist Matt Lemmler. Ruffins swings through "Happy Talk," an optimistic love song from South Pacific, delivers a jumpin' jivey version of "Hey Look Me Over" from Lucille Ball's Wildcat, and plays Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose" in a slow, mournful tempo that intensifies the song's feeling of hopeless love. His expressive vocal wrings every bit of emotion out of each word with a measured delivery that stretches every breath almost to its breaking point. Ruffins also contributes two original tunes. "New Orleans (My Home Town)" is a slow blues featuring Ruffins' smoky, muted trumpet and playful vocal, Lemmler's late-night piano, and Daryll McCoy's Memphis-style guitar fills, while "I Got a Tremé Woman" is a rousing jump blues with an exuberant, barely contained energy that features the trombone of Henry and David Pulphus' inventive acoustic bass. Ruffins has been getting a lot of exposure on the HBO series Tremé, and although he's been touring more, he still holds down his weekly gig at Vaughan's Lounge, just as he's done for the past 17 years.

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