Leo Nocentelli: another review of the parallel album

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Since it developed in the late 1960s, roots rock has been a confusing genre. Cast aside ornate flourishes for something more folkloric, simpler, more bluesy-think So be it and the band — the name itself begs the question: what roots are we talking about? After all, The Beatles perfected their covers of Chuck Berry in Germany. Mostly Canadians, the gang had a nauseating affection for the Confederate South. The origins of rock were clearly in black America, yet the vast majority of artists associated with the homecoming movement were white. For them, “going back to their roots” meant that the music they had innovated was more like the structure and sound they had created in the first place.

The term “roots rock” seems particularly out of place in New Orleans, in the Mississippi Delta, where rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and blues are supposed to have originated. At the dawn of the 1970s, the most avant-garde musicians of the bayou were not simplifying their sound. They fleshed it out with the traditions of their own communities: The Meters flirted with second-line rhythms, while Dr. John doses his swamp shamanism with the pomp of Mardi Gras. Rediscovering the roots was nonsense, these artists had never separated from them.

It’s still a bit disarming to hear the beauty stripped of Another side, the excellent debut solo by guitarist and Meters co-founder Leo Nocentelli, recorded largely in 1971 but first released this year by Light in the Attic. Nocentelli wrote the album for a brief period when the Meters were separated. He was in his mid-twenties, in love with folkster James Taylor and concerned about the future of his career. Maybe that’s why he was trying to be a singer-songwriter, although his band had already expanded the funk vocabulary, recorded a real hit with “Cissy Strut” and composed songs that would become later a treasure for hip-hop producers. The Meters, however, were more ubiquitous than they were famous or wealthy. Their democratic functioning meant that Nocentelli’s contributions could often be buried, even though he was perhaps the most consistent songwriter in the group as well as their engine, his muted grooves as steady as a train, heading towards the future of pop. Nocentelli’s command as conductor comes as no surprise. The shock is this: for lack of a better term, Another side is a roots rock record.

Covering nine originals and a tender cover of Elton John, the music mixes a melodious, traveling acoustic guitar and a country foot; only an experimental hip-hop producer could create a viable beat with most of these songs. The nudity of Nocentelli’s lyrics is unprecedented in the Meters Extended Universe – the record includes perhaps the most touching love song, “You’ve Become a Habit”, that a band member has ever recorded . And while it may seem out of step with the New Orleans scene, Another side came from its center, designed in part by R&B impresario Cosimo Matassa and stuffed with local heroes filling the role of chameleon men: two members of the Meters, George Porter Jr. and Ziggy Modeliste, play bass and bass, respectively. drums ; Allen Toussaint is seated at the piano; and on several pieces, the great jazzman James Black plays the drums. The 35 minutes of the album are the document of a city, an environment and a sensitivity, all the more lucid as they have the impression of coming from a completely different place.

As often happens with lost recordings, the story of Another sideThe dangerous fifty-year path to a wider cast is so winding that the tale threatens to scribble on the tunes themselves. After Nocentelli shelved the project, because the Meters signed a recording contract with Warner in 1972, Toussaint held the masters at his own Sea-Saint studios, and then Hurricane Katrina destroyed the legendary paradise of Clematis Street and three quarters of the bands that were housed there.

Historic art pipeline leads from New Orleans to Los Angeles – Nocentelli himself has lived in Southern California for years, and musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Frank Ocean have made the journey west to the hope to find broader perspectives. This is also how Another side Survived. In 1995, Toussaint sold Sea-Saint to a label publisher and distributor named Bill Valenziano, and as Sam Sweet reported in the Los Angeles Times, Valenziano moved the surviving masters, numbering in their thousands, to a warehouse near his California home, to neglect them. “I had checked in my head that 2020 would be the year I would take care of this,” the octogenarian told Sweet in 2019, “What if I can’t find a new owner… do you have time to make a bonfire at the beach? “

Fortunately, someone transported some of the archives to another facility, which was seized and the contents ended up during a swap meeting in the Los Angeles seaside suburb of Torrance, how the crate digger Mike Nishita brought them home, shocked to discover the two classic ’70s recordings and unreleased material thought to be lost forever. A producer for someone Sweet describes as “one of the most successful rappers in the world” offered Nishita $ 250,000 for the entire transport, wanting to use a bunch of unreleased music from the most sampled era. hip-hop to create unique rhythms. Nishita refused, and now Another side see the day. The record feels like a document of what happened, and also of what could have happened – an open-hearted acoustic career of a funk icon whose feelings always seemed to be hidden in his riffs.

Another side also has a story. It traces the vague story of a young man, shaken by a rupture, torn between his romantic anguish and an intense desire, perhaps doomed to failure, to succeed in the world of music. The first song, “Thinking of the Day”, uses warm, close-knit vocals on the mic while defining the themes of the record: “Thinking about tomorrow / But tomorrow never comes / I suppose I will think about tomorrow / Until my day is done We have sketches of frustrated dockworkers working the weekend on the Mississippi – the wool-dyed blues rocker ‘Riverfront’ – and farmers imagining themselves leaving their daily routines for the big city (‘Pretty Mittie’ ). We see a dream picture as a young black man in the south, and how aspirations are ceilinged due to both circumstance and choice. “We are sentenced to life / By our own beliefs” we Nocentelli says in a poem included in the album booklet, an apt description of his often altruistic career with the Meters and beyond: if he had ever asked his bandmates for the spotlight, he wouldn’t. certainly never received.

The lyrical themes are reinforced by understated virtuoso performances, the same quality that gives the early Meters records their power, although these songs are in a completely different vein. Modeliste’s rim shots on “Thinking of the Day” are muted and unpretentious; Toussaint’s organ trills fill the “Riverfront” space; airy choirs elevate “Tell Me Why” to a full-bodied pop song; Nocentelli’s dense picking makes the outro of “Your Song” climax, even without the puffy strings of Elton John’s original; James Black gives the “Give Me Back My Loving” climax a rowdy force, and Nocentelli’s voice has a twisted personality throughout. On the aforementioned “You’ve Become a Habit”, about a young man who falls in love with a sex worker named Fancy, his guitar playing and singing make their way like smoke into a sacred place and rare. Every part of the song hits someone who has sadly resigned themselves to one-sided love, the words themselves being the uncertain whispers of young and confused young people rising through the waves.

Magnificent if linked to the era, Another side comes with a certain sadness, thanks to the content, but also because we know what happened next. Nocentelli had a great second act with the Meters, but his songwriting benefited him in limited ways – like many artists, especially blacks, he was deprived of substantial royalties. Fascinating, Another side begins and ends with lyrics that describe a song as an interpersonal gift. Ultimately, this gift took the form of a fragile physical object, but like all gifts it suggests something about generosity itself, how the giver is left exposed without the assurance of anything. in return. Leo Nocentelli gave us his music, which at one point probably sounded like everything he had. Now we accept her as a legacy, a holdover from a vital culture constantly in danger of slipping into the past, and a voice so powerful it must be part of what we remember in the future.


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