American Nomad Blog
About this blog
American Nomad covers the best of U.S. travel—from vacation deals to festivals, weekend getaways, travel tips, and more. A seasoned traveler and Moon author, Laura is the perfect guide to help discover new gems when traveling domestically.
- A Southern Girl's Wintertime Adventure in Yellowstone
- One Novelist's Odyssey Across America
- Gearing up for a Family Camping Trip
- Mint Juleps and More at Oak Alley Plantation
- Avoiding Identity Theft While on Vacation
- Money-Saving Travel Tips from Nomadic Matt
- Fashion, Fun, and Convenience for the Modern Traveler
- In Search of Irish Museums Across America
- The Inspiring Journey of a Solo Kayaker
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 2
- Getting Fit for Treks in Yosemite and Elsewhere, Part 1
- Experiencing Yosemite with YExplore
- Two Travel Contests Worth Mentioning
- A Word About the TSA's No-No List
- A Reader's Advice About Airport Security
Inspiring Music for Travelers to Louisiana
Back in the spring, the Moon staff compiled the ultimate road-ready mix “to help get you in the mood for your next road trip.” Filled with some of my all-time favorites, it certainly inspired me to hit the highway. Of course, music can do more than propel you to pack your bags and help to pass the time on a long journey; it can also conjure up thoughts of specific destinations. Whenever I hear the unique crooning styles of Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, for instance, I can't help but think of Las Vegas. Likewise, listening to the Blues Brothers can immediately transport me to Chicago; Willie Nelson's one-of-a-kind voice recalls of all my most memorable trips to Texas; and clichéd as it might sound, any Jimmy Buffett tune has me wishing for a quick getaway to Key West.
So, given my track record on this blog, it might come as no surprise that plenty of songs also make me long for New Orleans. Even before HBO's acclaimed drama Treme began highlighting the talents of this musical region, it was no secret that the Big Easy and its environs have long been a hotbed for jazz, blues, soul, funk, zydeco, and other influential styles of music. In fact, so many world-famous musicians have emerged from this part of the country that I'd be hard-pressed to choose my absolute favorite. From Louis Armstrong to Kermit Ruffins to Amanda Shaw, the region's most celebrated artists have moved me, thrilled me, and, in many cases, inspired me to get up and dance. No wonder attendance continues to rise for the annual French Quarter Festival – which, even more than the city's world-famous Jazz Fest, highlights local and regional musicians, famous or otherwise. If the burgeoning crowds are any indication, I'm apparently not alone in my passion for the music of southern Louisiana.
Admittedly, there are certain albums that, no matter where I am, instantly transport me to the Big Easy, my beloved hometown and part-time residence. While working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans, in fact, I couldn't help but compile my top 10 favorites. Though many fans, critics, and experts may disagree with my selections – after all, beloved songs like “Mardi Gras Mambo” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” are conspicuously missing – these are the albums that I always take with me on my travels (and highly recommend to other music lovers, especially those new to the culture of New Orleans):
Best of the Bayou Blues (2006)
Born in Baton Rouge and raised in nearby Houma, Tab Benoit has gained a widespread reputation for his unique brand of blues, which is tinged with rock, country, and Cajun sounds. Although this Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and guitarist has released more than a dozen albums since the early 1990s, perhaps the best primer for newbies is this particular compilation, which features several of his most popular songs, such as “Voodoo on the Bayou” and “Nice and Warm,” as well as other classics like Hank Williams' “Jambalaya” and Clifton Chenier's “Hot Tamale Baby.” Of course, there's nothing quite like hearing Tab in person, whether at one of the city's numerous music festivals or in blues clubs around the country.
Funkify Your Life (1995)
The Meters, an American funk band based in New Orleans, performed and recorded their own music from 1969 to 1977. Together, the five principal members – Art and Cyril Neville, Zigaboo Modeliste, Leo Nocentelli, and George Porter, Jr. – produced eight albums, many songs of which constitute this two-disc compilation. While The Meters didn't achieve the mainstream success of artists like Harry Connick, Jr., you may still recognize some of their songs, including “Hey Pocky A-Way” and “They All Ask'd for You.” If you become a fan, you'll be happy to know that, in the mid-1990s, Art, George, and two other gifted musicians officially formed a new band, known as the funky METERS, which continues to play venues around the world.
Goin' Back to New Orleans (1992)
Born in 1940 as Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr., the world-renown singer, songwriter, pianist, and guitarist known as Dr. John was raised in New Orleans – a fact that permeates his one-of-a-kind style, which combines blues, jazz, pop, zydeco, and rock 'n' roll. While I've seen him play all over town and long owned many of his albums, this one is indeed my favorite. Filled with the kind of street-side music (also called “barrelhouse,” “gut bucket,” and “funky butt”) that you might hear during a parade, at a voodoo ceremony, or in a gospel-style church, this album includes such classics as “Basin Street Blues” and “Good Night, Irene.”
Live on Planet Earth (1994)
Known as New Orleans' “first family of funk,” the Neville Brothers are internationally celebrated for their unique brand of bluesy funk and soul. Consisting of four brothers – Art, Aaron, Cyril, and Charles – as well as background musicians, the Neville Brothers have performed all over the world. Of the more than 15 albums they've produced, this live one is indeed my favorite, featuring crowd-pleasers like “Shake Your Tambourine” and “Congo Square.”
Louisiana Spice (1995)
Produced by Rounder Records, this two-disc collection features such well-respected performers as Marcia Ball, James Booker, Irma Thomas, Beausoleil, Zachary Richard, and Buckwheat Zydeco, making this an excellent primer for those unfamiliar with the music of southern Louisiana.
Lucky Devil (2010)
As many friends can attest, my husband and I are huge fans of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, a local old-time jazz band that we've heard in various venues throughout the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny. While Meschiya's incredibly soulful voice may be the main draw, the band itself is equally talented. For the most part, their live sets consist of old jazz and blues favorites, such as “I Ain't Got Nuthin but the Blues” and “Backwater Blues,” both of which you'll find on this debut album.
The New Orleans Hit Story (1993)
Believe it or not, this was one of the first CDs that I ever purchased: a two-disc compilation of Big Easy hits from 1950 to 1970. Included here are such winners as Fats Domino's “Walking to New Orleans,” Ernie K-Doe's “Mother-in-Law,” The Dixie Cups' “Iko Iko,” and Lee Dorsey's “Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky.”
New Orleans Jazz Preservation (1995)
Simply put, this album offers the experience of standing on a New Orleans street corner and watching a brass band parade by. Here, the boisterous Olympia Brass Band plays such selections as “Muskrat Ramble,” “Bourbon Street Parade,” and “This Train Is Bound for Glory.”
Rum and Coke (1993)
Born in 1918 in the nearby town of Bogalusa, Professor Longhair performed as a street tap dancer long before he began playing the guitar and the piano. This lively album highlights not only his skills as a singing pianist but also his three principal musical styles: calypso, rhumba boogie, and slow blues. Some of my favorite renditions include “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” “Whole Lotta Lovin',” and “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”
The 12 Yats of Christmas (1998)
Admittedly, the appeal of this seasonal album is less about the music and more about the laughs. But, with locally influenced songs like “O Little Town of Destrehan” and “Norris the Nocturnal Nutria” – sung in the accent-thick voices of Benny Grunch & the Bunch – it's easy to see why this particular Christmas album makes me a wee bit homesick, especially during the winter holiday season.
Hopefully, these albums will compel you to plan a trip to the Crescent City sometime soon. Until then, which songs or musicians have the ability to transport you to certain destinations – whether in America or elsewhere around the globe?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below or contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com.
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns © 2011 Daniel Martone / Text © 2011 Laura Martone