It was a preemptive strike. Months before Hurricane Katrina devestated New Orleans and the Gulf coast, a band of time travellers arrived, a talented group of musicians intent on reminding the city of its wonderful musical history, raising morale amongst the citizens with song. They have been playing throughout the French Quarter ever since, each virtuoso member converting their heartache into joyful noise for the city to absorb.
Evoking a New Orleans jazz-blues sound circa 1920, Tuba Skinny are a brass-backed band featuring female singer Erika Lewis, whose magical voice will draw you in from a block away. For Red Wizard, walking down Royal Street Sunday afternoon in a hungover daze, the singing came from a dream, from a scratchy warped vinyl record, from places seemingly out of reach in this waking reality. Upon approach, the rhythm section led by a gigantic tuba and a washboard only cemented this otherworldly feeling. This is music from the past, yet it is no novelty act.
The band gives you a nonstop foot-stomping good time. Trombone, trumpet, guitar and banjo (and the occasional guest clarinet, tap-dancer, etc.) trade off solos between verses, or even for entire songs, and though it may be Erika’s voice that draws you in, everybody there will hold your attention when their turn comes. Each song manages to showcase some or all of the band’s talents without feeling overindulgent, and the solos are melodic, danceable, and modest in length. It is the kind of music born from the streets that feels just right.
Their two studio albums capture the passion, energy, and enjoyment of the music near-perfectly. Though hearing them live is a must, the recordings offer the same rollicking experience, and can serve to assuage your withdrawal symptoms if you are longer in the Big Easy. Their latest is avilable for listening on Tuba Skinny’s new website – Six Feet Down is an original by Erika, At The Jazz Band Ball an instrumental, and Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None Of My Jellyroll & Vine Street Blues showcase guitarist Kiowa on vocals. If you want a copy, you’ll have to track them down yourself.
Listen to the first track off their first album, from 2009:
Tuba Skinny are: Erika Lewis – Vocals | Todd – Tuba | Kiowa – Guitar | Shaye Cohn – Trumpet | Barnabus – Trombone | Alynda Lee – Banjo | Robin – Washboard