REVIEW: John “Papa” Gros Brings New Orleans to Some Classic Songs on “Central City”


New Orleans, probably more than any other city, is a place where the music carries the spirit of the city. From the piano of Professor Longhair to the good-time rock and roll of Cowboy Mouth, the music of New Orleans really couldn’t come from any other city.

John “Papa” Gros has been a part of New Orleans music with the world for more than 30 years. He began as a street performer after he graduated from university. From there, he backed artists like George Porter, Jr. (The Meters) and Snooks Eaglin and then started Papa Grows Funk. On his third solo album Central City, he explores classic New Orleans songs. It is rightly described as “his own signature gumbo.” “Sharing New Orleans is my calling,” he said. With this new album, you’ll be glad that’s the case.

It doesn’t take long to realize that gumbo is the perfect term to describe this blend of sounds. On one hand you hear songs like “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”, which features the piano that has long been a staple of New Orleans jazz and blues. You also hear a definite Dixieland influence with the banjo and the horns in songs like “All My Rivers.”

His version of “Personality” (originally sung by Lloyd Price) gets the full New Orleans treatment – complete with second-line drumming, horns, and banjo. It’s practically impossible to keep from singing and dancing along to this song. He also covers “It’s Raining” (Irma Thomas). Featuring only piano and vocals, this stands in stark contrast to the uptempo melodies of the other songs. For that reason, it shows his power as a singer. Sure, the upbeat songs with the band will get you moving, but he shows that he does pretty well on his own – even with a song that’s iconic.

This album contains a cover of “Please Don’t Bury Me” by John Prine. The song was obviously recorded before Prine died, but it is further testament to the impact Prine had across the music community. This version captures the whimsy in Prine’s lyrics and wraps it in a New Orleans melody complete with tuba, clarinet, and more. Despite the sadness of Prine’s passing, this version will likely put a smile on your face.

At a time when – more than ever – all the news seems to be bad, this album is a welcome helping of brightness and happiness. The songs will make you feel better not only by lifting your spirits, but also by giving you the chance to dance as crazily as you want while you’re cooped up in the house. Think of it as a feel-good drug that doesn’t require any prescription. Central City will be available everywhere on April 17. Order your copy here.

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