JOHN “PAPA” GROS
RIVER’S ON FIRE
CRAZY–RIVER’S ON FIRE–HER LOVE CAN’T BE DENIED–SUGAR AND ICE–TWO LITTLE ANGELS–HOUSE OF LOVE–SHAKY FRANK–SAME OLD SAME–WHY’D YOU DO IT–COCAINE AND CHICKEN FRICASSEE–THIS NEW YEAR’S EVE
John “Papa” Gros–think “Grow”–is a New Orleans native who has spent his entire musical career playing the music he loves–that bluesy, jazzy funk that is synonymous with the Big Easy. His former band, Papa Grows Funk, disbanded in 2013, and his latest album, to be released on August 26, is entitled “River’s On Fire,” and marks his first work since that time. It is comprised of eleven originals that embody the soul and spirit of that great city. There are party songs, sad songs, even a few “character” songs, throughout this platter of great blues to be savored.
For this set, John literally returned to his roots and to his instrument of choice–the piano–to write and arrange these songs. He has Brian Stoltz on guitar, Eric Vogel on bass, and Russ Broussard on drums to keep things flowing smoothly.
The title cut is a passionate shot of positive energy. One can argue that it was written for the recovery of New Orleans during the decade following Katrina, or perhaps for hope for a nation in dire straits. Either way, over a churchy, sanctified groove, we know “our city’s healing and The River’s On Fire.” The innocence and exuberance of being a child is the theme of “Two Little Angels,” while the upbeat message of “living in this House Of Love” was originally done on the Papa Grows Funk album, “Shakin.”
We meet some interesting characters on this journey, too. There’s “Shaky Frank,” who “works in the kitchen, smokin’ his Luckies,” set over John’s piano groove that is pure Henry Roeland Byrd, the ol’ Professor Longhair! A “sometimey” lover is seemingly made of “Sugar And Ice,” and poor John just can’t figure out what she wants. And, everybody has seen that “stone cold junkie” who corrupts our youth and lives off “Cocaine And Chicken Fricassee!’
Our favorite closed the set. A somber ode to trying to drink away the pain of loss is “me and my bottle on This New Year’s Eve.” This one, we believe, might have been written as a tribute from John to his long-time mentor, colleague, and collaborator, Allen Toussaint, who passed during the recording of these songs. You can hear Toussaint’s influences all over this record. With John “Papa” Gros and “River’s On Fire,” he continues to carry on the spirit and heritage of Allen’s music, while writing his own pages in the vaunted history of New Orleans music! Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.