" Occapella "
FHQ Records

We've grown accustomed to Jon Cleary's New Orleans sounds, but on Occapella! he takes a new turn, choosing to cover a Big Easy treasure, Allen Toussaint. This recording is the soon to be fifty year old Cleary's sixth overall, co-produced by John Porter, and, even though it's relatively short (clocking in at less than forty minutes), it's a jewel.

"Let's Get On Down" starts the festivities with vocal support from Cleary's ex-employer Bonnie Raitt, plus Dr. John. The reggae tinged "Poor Boy Got To Move" comes with strong vocals from Cleary and sounds like it was recorded on a street corner in Jamaica. Special guest Walter "Wolfman" Washington adds his vocals (but no guitar) on the classic "Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky," with its quirky, odd syncopations. "Southern Nights" is masterfully rearranged; it's very soft and gorgeous, even a bit haunting, and works well among this carefully handpicked collection of Toussaint tunes. The grunge sounds on "Viva La Money" are simmering and very funky. On the doo-wop flavored "Wrong Number" and "Popcorn Pop Pop," Cleary approximates Aaron Neville's voice.

My first recollection of "What Do You Want The Girl To Do" was from Lowell George's one and only solo recording Thanks I'll Eat It Here, but this take is very different, it's tender, tasteful, and exceedingly soulful with Cleary's spot on vocals. "When The Party's Over" is another charmer that has that outdoor summer song feel, making you want to sing along with, perhaps like you might had done with the Rascals "Groovin'." "I'm Gone" percolates funky with a charming second-line groove. The closing "Fortune Teller" rounds out Occapella! instrumentally, with a somewhat long piano introduction from Cleary that eventually honky-tonks and meanders all around. It's a fitting closing touch on what is one heck of a stunning recording.

Noteworthy is the fact that Cleary played most of the instruments on Occapella! Additionally impressive is the reality that Cleary's vocals shine throughout. This is a wonderful tribute that turned out to be far more than expected, so much so that I am certain Mr. Toussaint would approve, rightfully so.

Bob Putignano: