On a hot and humid New Orleans afternoon, we reminisce of seasons past; musical gatherings and triumphs of old seeping into the wonder and fantasy of young adventure and philosophical starscapes. A treasured plethora of moments recalled through sight, sound, and mind, perhaps delving into that of an older era known to many only through media nostalgia. A summer serenade among the dew drops in. And a perfect twilight ventures into the French Quarter; love and light guiding the way through stoic backdrops of jazz legacy. Preservation and rich tradition bellows from all corners of the Crescent City. With these roots forging into the new, Charlie Gabriel’s solo album, 89, is a trip back in tribute, but also a look forward into the noir and divine majesty of one of music’s most cherished legends in the genre. To further encapsulate the auditory experience that is 89, let us first look back into the mythos and iconic story of Mr. Gabriel.
Clarinetist, saxophonist, and flutist Charlie Gabriel is a fourth-generation jazz musician from New Orleans. Raised in a classically trained musical family that emigrated from Santo Domingo in the 1850’s, Gabriel began playing clarinet professionally with the Eureka Brass Band when he was eleven years old. During World War II his father, clarinetist and drummer Martin Manuel “Manny” Gabriel often sent his son on gigs. Charlie himself became a prominent member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 2009. I would be remiss in my journalism if I did not mention that Mr. Gabriel is a very accomplished chess player and has a wonderful video with the Preservation Hall band leader Ben Jaffe. The two have a wonderful interview and casual conversation over a chess match, which is available on the Preservation Hall YouTube page.
The opening track, “Memories of You”, paints the rainy southern landscape of beauty in solitude. Guitar harmonies and saxophone jazz serenades sparkle this uplifting noir opus that is the album 89, capturing a mixture of crisp guitar jazz theoretics and perfect brass rings compels the mind and soul throughout the album.
Following this is “Chelsea Bridge”, a 1941 compositional Jazz standard classic by Billy Strayhorn. This rendition is celebratory of its creation and displays the range and vibrato of Mr. Gabriel’s voice.
The album’s single is accompanied by a music video. “I’m Confessin’” showcases a sharp-dressed Mr. Gabriel being chauffeured around New Orleans. It also depicts behind the scenes of the writing and recording of 89, and beautiful glimpses of chess games, and bandmates laughing and hanging out. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the creative life of one of music’s most treasured geniuses.
Following the slow, heavenly tones of “I’m Confessin’” is the soothing noir love letter sounds of “The Darker It Gets”, an original song written by Charlie. The tune opens with beautifully strummed jazz chords by the record’s guitarist Joshua Starkman, with Ben Jaffe adding some walking swing dynamics on the upright bass. Charlie Gabriel’s smooth and soothing vocals warm up the mix. As I sit and listen, I am transported mentally to another time; rainy gas lantern-lit streets of New Orleans’ historic district and music clubs with black tie dress codes. A tenor sax solo brings out the sun in our adventure through a wonderful world created by Mr. Gabriel. Heard in the lyrics Charlie sings, “the darker it gets the better I see, the hidden place that’s inside of me.”
The next song on the album is “Stardust”. The 1947 Hoagy Carmichael classic brings the feel and love of the original version while adding a bit of flavor that can only come from New Orleans. Charlie has stated that of the Jazz songs he picked for this album, he never plays them the same way twice. A seasoned player in the game, he exudes musical creativity in a natural and inspiring way.
“Three Little Words” is a shift in sound as we get vibes of flamenco Jazz, cuban beats, tiki lounge, and a beautiful brass solo that will get every fan of music to the dance floor. The song was written by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar, and published in 1930. The song would go on to receive fame when it was recorded by Duke Ellington on August 26th, 1930. The musicianship and arrangement on this cover puts further emphasis on how versatile and deep the love of the genre’s history remains. The production on 89 is bright and vibrant while also feeling intimate, and gives the listener a front row ticket to the show.
At 91, Charlie Gabriel is still touring, and playing at Preservation Hall. I had the opportunity to see his performance in Jackson Square for French Quarter Fest in 2023. And without a doubt, he is on top of his game. An in-depth, unique audio experience, 89 is a glimpse into the mind and joy of an artist like no other. Should you choose to listen, 89 will illustrate a stand-out moment in time, as well as cement Charlie as a staple in Jazz. Pick up the chess match and listen to 89 for an amazing adventure.
Vick reached out to me about an album review. What followed was representative of his caliber as a musician and his acumen as a professional one. He furnished me with a private link to his upcoming release (in the states. This was released in Europe February 17th of this year), a press kit, and his personal bio. This is what any music professional wants to see and every musician should have. And what backs all of this up is a couple of seasoned veterans that could hold court with the best without missing a beat. While that may sound poetic, it’s one-hundred percent true. That being said, I hope after this read many of you click one of the links below leading to Vick and Reuben and give it a like, share, or follow. These are a few of the currencies that musicians deal in which cost us nothing to pay forward. As for our guy who reached out, Vick Lecar is originally from Chile and lists some of his influences as being Jimi Hendrix, Terry Kath, Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Paco De Lucia, and Santana. That being said, let us peruse the matter at hand, Gallus Rex.
This first track opens with a sassy blues rock riff reminding you of something Led Zeppelin would’ve done. Then in comes a guy by the name of Reuben Williams on vocals, “Hold me momma, never let me go”. He’s got a big voice with just enough grit to spice up the song notes. He can hit those high notes with no problem. The next hammer blow to drive this nail further is a Hammond organ which carries us through the bridge and on to accompany one of his dynamite guitar solos. From lyrics, to composition, to change-ups and solos… It’s clean work overall and my head is bobbing.
“When the Rain Comes”
It could be my personal affinity for the rock god known as Led Zeppelin, but I am taken back to his influence into this second track. This time it’s by way of Bron-Yr-Aur-esque guitar work married with Reuben’s clean, reverberated vocals. “We come undone when it rains”, he says, going further to touch on the sentimental good and bad around us. And I might add here that his choice of lyrics isn’t cheesy or over-illustrative. This is not contrived gibberish. Rather, it is clever and well thought word play. Back-up vocals move in to sing along, and the beat begins. He speaks with a John Cougar Mellencamp style of welcomed, reliable, and traditional hometown characteristics. Then the notes drop down a few and electric guitars kick in for a reinforcing bridge to another impeccable guitar solo; nicely done! He brings us back to electric acoustic. I’d like to point out here that this song has an unmistakable mass appeal. Some major brand is bound to license this one for a commercial! I’m going to say Chevy. But that’s just because I’m a Chevy Man.
“Dead on the Inside”
Now, this track opens with a harmonica groove. I love these! For those of us familiar, it hearkens the wonderful tune “If you Wanna Get to Heaven” by the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. Then bam! Electric power chords command us forth into a crash followed by some movin’ groovin’ tom work with an electric acoustic guitar saying go-go-go! Reuben’s voice is so solid here. The grit is eased a bit which is proper at this time. This serves evident of his voice control and belongs here at this moment. Then in comes that electric guitar and off they go! “I’m dead on the inside” is Reuben’s dismal proclamation. Luckily, his guitar isn’t and she lets us all know it! The band plays a while on this field that we’re all ready to kick some ass on. There’s a ride bell ringing next along with a great phasered guitar solo. Again, when his vocals return you can clearly tell he lives comfortably in the high notes. And his vocals rest atop a full ensemble beautifully. The song culminates in the drums, organ, and guitars all going at it Rambo style to send us off with a rowdy finale.
“If Heaven Takes You First”
“Don’t say you’re sorry. Don’t say goodbye” is Reuben’s delicate message, accompanied by a strumming electric acoustic piece. His voice takes up residence in this and becomes an instrument of its own. This is a somber tune touching on his unwillingness to face the future without someone while feeling the sting of a dying love. The drums kick in with just a closed high hat keeping time and a side stick. A pronounced snare ushers us into the electrifying expansion of the song. An awesome electric solo ensues. Again, these solos are immaculate. They’re not cumbersome or crowding the soundscape. Also, the drums thus far, which are so so terribly important to congeal the song, are sanitary and on time. That sounds so sterile. But the comment is directed toward the concept that whatever can be deemed unnecessary must be stripped from the final cut for a cleaner sounding end product. There’s never any fat to trim when it comes to the drumming; on any of these songs. And I applaud the work. “One more time I wanna look into your eyes. I hate that I love you. Please don’t say goodbye”. Excellent. This is quality work.
“My Guitar and I”
Another arrant lead guitar intro greets us, and is repeated while accompanied by rhythm guitar. We are then addressed by the vocal master of ceremonies himself, Reuben Williams. “Fascinated by your fire baby. You’re a cool child in the desert sky.” Come on man! Write that down and you’ll be beating the females off of you! Providing us with the sand that sometimes soothes, we inherently have the urge to listen to what he has to say. This track is a slow styled, laid-back groove about his love affair with his guitar. Lots of visual and ethereal metaphors. You’ll find another groovy guitar solo next that the organ keeps aloft. Oh, how I love a smartly placed Hammond organ. It’s like dreads (hear me out). It took time to come up with that instrument’s sound. And you just feel that its origins far precede anything you’ve ever known. I’m sure his guitar was blushing after it heard this song.
So, I was on a freshman class field trip one time down to the Gulf Coast. A group of six of us were staying in a hotel overnight and attending a seminar the next morning. The chaperone was our basketball coach; a middle-aged flub whose appeal had waned where sarcasm had waxed. Out of boredom, I had taken to the hallways of this place, staring out the windows at the dimly lit sand wishing I could figure out a way to get some beer and a bit of freedom. It was late, and the parking lot was dark. But I was positive I had just watched our coach kiss some woman and then get into her car, inexplicably driving away in the night. I knew immediately that this was grounds for mayhem and the time was now. And I have said all that to say this… This memory is what came to mind while listening to the first track on this demo by What a Waste, “Nailed to Your Southern Cross”. The sticks count in and instantly you’re hit with a motivating bassline that says action. I like it already. Tip of the toes kids, the pit is a calling! “You won’t see me. I’ll see you”, is what it sounds like he said. And that’s what I’m thinking jumping in that pit. The song is quick; in and out in just over a minute. I do hope the final cut gives us a bit more of this gem.
Moving on. Second track “So Far Away” finds Dave on the vocals with trail-offs at the ends of vocal bars leaving listeners with an almost melodic presence; almost. I like his style. It’s cool to scream your ass off. And maybe it’s the Southerner in me, but when the grit is mixed with a bit of butter, I like that. A quick two-and-a-half-minute track that, at a minute and twenty-eight seconds in goes through a change-up. And this change-up slowly builds in pace until they plop the original rhythm back in our laps. This is good stuff people! It’s like they’re milking the anxiety cow’s teats for all their worth. I’m spewing adrenaline.
Next up is the title track “What a Waste”. And apparently some guy works every day and has either pissed off Dave, or Dave is telling us the over-worked guy is pissed. Whatever the case may be, the guitar gets a little funky in this one. I mean its punk, but with a little snazzle-razzle on it. Ok it’s just a sharp note followed consecutively by the two flat notes beneath it. But I like the way Joe twangs his thang.
“Huffing Glue” is almost as short as the first track at only a minute thirty-seven and the final track on this demo. I think my laptop was huffing glue because it kept pausing, or buffering, whatever that means. Anyway, good ole Billy on drums counts us in and we blast off into a four-note mainstay broken up by a couple high notes that signify the chorus is here.
All in all, they’re quick, they’re tight, and pay them their respect. This is a middle finger to your day, to my day; something to spruce up your morning coffee. And I needed it because I’m out of creamer and sugar. Whoever said “once you go black, you never go back”….. lied. But to the ex-members of A Hanging, The Pallbearers and AR-15 that gave me this lovely dose of audio intensity, I say thank you. And definitely, definitely follow up on this project with an expansion, both in catalog and song exploration. With that, I will hand over the reigns to Neworleansmusicians.com member and bassist for The Grooxs, Jorge Caicedo.
Jorge: This is the demo debut of What A Waste from New Orleans. Four tunes of straight-ahead punk rock with the Black Flag and Circle Jerk influences coming through nicely. The rhythm section of bassist Bobby Bergeron and drummer Bill Baxley, both of whom were in the excellent A Hanging, keep the bottom end tight while the guitars and vocals do their thing.
The tunes are more of a mid-tempo style as opposed to straight speed, although “Huffing Glue” is the exception. As per punk aesthetics, the songs are short, catchy and to the point. Catch these guys the next time they play a show, it’ll be well worth your time. You can get your cassette or digital download plus more perks using the Bandcamp link below.
Spiders are born knowing how to spin a web. Fish are born knowing how to swim. Humans, on the other hand, are born only knowing how to suck. And I say that to say this… as musicians, we have no innate knowledge of what it is we need to survive this musical landscape.
In any given situation, communication is king. If you can convey your message without losing your audience’s attention, you win. Sometimes a win just means holding their attention for those few minutes. Because through repetition, they will become familiar. And through familiarity comes a comfort of sorts, which gives way to curiosity. “Oh, I remember seeing something about them. Who are they?” And then you’re in.
Or, you’re up, I should say. Now it’s time to lay out the goods. And you do have the goods, right? Sure! This is your last album, your latest song, your newest merch, etc. But this is all geared toward the consumer. What about the music professional? What “goods” do you have for that person? You can’t lay down consumer goods for this person because they don’t care about any of it. And you can forget a hokey motivational band vision or personal perspective. In comes the EPK, or electronic press kit. Now there are EPK builders out there for free or a fee, and these are just to name a few: Wix.com, Bandzoogle.com, Gigmor.com, Reverbnation.com. But rather than allow mass distributed templates be your guide, I would recommend doing your own research on what exactly it is your target wants or expects to see and hear. I’m going to outline a short list of what many would agree are the industry standards. I might recommend a cover letter just to introduce your band. This is something used in all professions and you can easily look up its inclusions online.
A biography – This will consist of a brief history of the band, as well as a current roster. If your band is new, I’d sub the band history for individual members’ past bands and preferred style of music. But definitely keep this short and focused on notable highlights because this is merely the set-up.
Visual media – Everybody likes some good eye candy, right? Just make sure its high resolution. Low res gives ‘em indigestion, and they’ll surely quit biting. So, a few still photos of the band are in there. And mix it up; maybe one of you all posing, and the rest on stage in your element. If at all possible, be sure to include a video. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a professionally shot music video. Your band performing will suffice in its absence. But please, sub your recorded track for the live audio. Nothings grinds my gears more than a band video submission that sounds like it was shot in a cavernous, echoey wind tunnel.
Stats – No matter the catcher you’re pitching to, these people are bean counters in essence. They need factual verification that your band is worth investing time or money into. So yes, your previous show attendances are important here. You might say, well David, our show attendances are shiyte man! We’re not playing stadiums over here! That’s ok people. Along with those attendance numbers should be club capacity numbers. This will frame things into perspective. Another stat to include is your social media following (boo, hiss). I know. But despite the field being littered with vanity metrics, this number illustrates potential at the very least; the potential of your band to gather ears and eyes, as well as the potential of the social media account holder to DIY. Take, for instance, a promoter’s standpoint. If the band isn’t going to do all they can to draw a crowd, they’re not worth risking the investment. And you can present this proof of work succinctly by making use of your platform profile’s statistics page. I might also point out here that, in constructing this portion of your EPK, you too will see where your band lacks. And this will give focus to your band priorities.
Demo – Now this one may seem like a no brainer. But the manner in which it is presented comes into question. We’re dealing with a completely digital experience. So, your music is going to exhibit your flaws, flawlessly. If you don’t have a quality recording, go make one and revisit this article when you’re done. With that being said, how shall you present this quality piece of audio? You want the professional to hear you, but you don’t want to draw them away from your EPK. So, if you’re going to store your music online and furnish a link in the EPK, make sure it opens up in a new tab on their desktop. This way when they’re finished listening, they won’t have to retrace their steps in the browser to get back to your EPK. If you’re storing your whole EPK online and providing them that EPK’s link in your initial contact, you can embed a player in your EPK. I recommend both. Not only am I the type to cover all bases in preparation for a presentation. But people have mixed preferences for various reasons. Some recipients might not want to blindly click your unfamiliar link, exposing their computer to possible viruses. So, including an emailed link to your whole EPK is out for them. And some may have filters set on their email client to refute html in the body of emails. So, embedding a player within the email itself is out for them. You can attach an Mp3. But understand emails have data limits. So, make sure you can also fit that video in your email along with this Mp3. A third option, and probably your best, is creating a PDF file. This can reduce data issues and group your media into a sweet portfolio. But if you opt not to go that route and run into data issues, complete songs or videos aren’t a necessity. If the talent is there and you’re the right one got the gig, they’ll know before your song is even finished playing.
Press – This one is a favorite of mine, selfishly. Because, in covering the scene, it’s part of what I do here at Neworleansmusicians.com. If you’ve had any album reviews, any show reviews, any interviews… this is their time to shine. In my opinion, the best way to present this is to include a notable quote contained in that review or interview about your band or song. And then be sure to cap that off with the link to that press piece. Because in the court of public opinion, the quote alone is considered here-say. And again, if you’ve led them to your EPK stored online, make sure this opens in a new tab. Keep your captive captivated!
Contact Info – I’d like to dispel a few myths here. Some say a Gmail seems more legit than a Yahoo or other email provider. This, in my eyes, is nonsense. Just make sure you respond, as they say in Acadiana, toot sweet. That means quick, fast, and in a hurry. And hey, SPELL CHECK all correspondences! Another myth is that it’s wise to pose as the manager for your band and include that contact info in place of your own personal info. Maybe that gets you places with some, I really can’t say. I’ve always been of the school of thought to let your work speak for itself. If you conduct yourself in a professional manner, you will be treated like a professional. And being spotted as a fake is perhaps the most unprofessional thing you could do. So, with all of that out the way, just be sure to include multiple forms of contact; email, phone, social media, all of which you monitor religiously.
So, these are the bones of this monster. Now to whom shall we send our Frankenstein? The usual suspects consist of A&Rs, Talent Buyers, and National/ International Press. But these days there’s also playlist curators and bloggers to think about. One character I definitely want to throw in this mix is a Music Supervisor. Because sync licensing is an excellent way to get your music into the ears of people who weren’t even looking for you in the first place. Sync licensing paves the way for your music to be included in film. And this would entail a ton of streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu, as well as online destinations like Youtube and Vimeo. So, let’s not forget about sending that guy your EPK as well. The point here is to realize that your EPK must contain utility for not only a record exec., but a music supervisor, someone who books shows, or someone who publishes on playlists or blogs. Its job is to depict your band from multiple angles of utility.
When I was a kid, I kept a binder. In it were my own drawings of men and women; soldiers, if you will. Picture something like G.I. JOE. I gave them as much visual detail as a kid could, complete with weapons. I listed their strengths, weaknesses, and back stories. And it didn’t matter that this binder had no particular use. I thought it was the greatest. Often times we build things the way we see fit. Not understanding that the rest of the world sees things differently. It may take us a long time to build a solid band, a cohesive set list, an image, an EPK, etc. And when we’re done, because of all the hard work we put into this thing, we feel as though it has strength and weight in the world. Our perception is skewed though, by the manifestation of our vision. Suffice it to say that other people have other visions. And that’s to be expected. But within that you cannot discount the importance of industry standard. For many, it is the only known way to operate. And any deviation from this may spell trouble for a band trying to get from one side of Mr. Important’s desk to the other.
BUT! (there’s always a but) As our friend in marketing, Mr. Seth Godin, once said in his famed book The Purple Cow, “The key to success is to find a way to stand out – to be the purple cow in a field of monochrome Holsteins.” And that’s one big, important rump roast of “but” right there! Because when considering your band for their project, I guarantee you most if not all of the business figures listed above ask themselves, what makes this band different from any of the others I’ve reviewed today?
So, in closing, I’d like to advise you to cover the industry standards as well as encourage you to add just a little bit extra, in substance as well as fashion. Perhaps the cover letter dubs your band “Tragic magic in a bottle…”. Or maybe your demo includes the person’s name you’re pitching to, “HEY SMITH! LISTEN TO THIS!…” I could walk you through the birds and bees when it comes to how to be different and stand out to that desired significant other. But to be honest, we must all find our own way in this game. And I do prefer to reserve strategic guidance for members of my website. Throughout all of this, I want you to realize that like life, your EPK is not over once you write it. It is a constantly moving, growing, living story. And you should be always revising it and adding to it like a diary. I wish you all the best of luck in your journeys. And I thank you for taking the time to read this.