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Published: 2004/07/29
by Mike Greenhaus

Funeral For A Friend – Dirty Dozen Brass Band

Ropeadope Records 51526

Perhaps, the most appropriate place to begin dissecting the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's tenth studio document is its dedication. A quick, hand-written eulogy for founding member Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen, Funeral for a Friend’s tribute doubles as a death announcement. The prologue for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s audio recounting of a traditional New Orleans death march, Funeral for a Friend’s liner notes establish a strong connection with the veteran performers’ Louisiana heritage.

After flourishing on the fringe of jam-nation for well over a decade, it's easy to forget the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's strong roots in New Orleans tradition. Fostering a longstanding relationship with Widespread Panic, among others, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band are too often reduced to functioning as a adjunct horn section for a variety of rock-based units, while allowing these jambands to morph into true groove-rock ensembles. Using a traditional New Orleans funeral as a stylistic crutch of sorts, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band dig deeper into their rich Big Easy background, creating a sober, but successful, studio document of their live, street performance capabilities.

Opening with a series of somber horn chants, Funeral for a Friend slowly walks its way through the various stages of death. Breezing through spirited covers of staples like "John the Revelator," "Amazing Grace," and "I’ll Fly Away," the Dirty Dozen Brass Band offer a distinct mood on Funeral for a Friend, leading to one of their most stylistically concise records in years. While recent studio releases have allowed groovy guests like John Medeski and DJ Logic to shine, Funeral for a Friend returns the group’s core unit to the forefront. Beating in time with his bandmates’ street march, drummer Terence Higgins taps his snare drum with military precision, reminding listeners of this disc’s burial backdrop.

Laced with the urban polish that accompanies any Ropeadope release, Funeral for a Friend is a brass-heavy, thick listen. The ten-song collection’s two finest cuts arrive early: "Please Let Me Stay a Little Longer" and "Jesus on the Mainline." While not as stylistically adventurous as the free jazz of "Down by the Riverside" or the groove fugues of "John the Revelator," both songs resurrect the dance tradition of a time long forgotten. Gelling with his bandmates’ marching band configuration, Jamie McLean’s acoustic guitar plucks resonate particularly well, further cementing a strong blues collection on "Down by the Riverside." Using death as a celebration of New Orleans life, "Please Let Me Stay" is the type of song that would score Dixie-land documentaries of yesteryear, while "Jesus on the Mainline" gives baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis a chance to shine. With production placed at a minimal, each track’s ghostly echo allows New Orleans’ sprits to dance.

Buffing up a trio of tracks with the voices of the Davell Crawford Singers, the Dirty Dozen also offers a stab at traditional gospel-influenced music. Keeping time with the Big Easy's celebratory funeral marches, Melody Palmer grand marshals the disc's centerpiece, "I'll Fly Away" — a careful blend of gospel, jazz, and southern spice. Slowly, fading into a somewhat dissonant take on "Is There Anybody Here that Loves My Jesus," the Dirty Dozen Brass Band create a stark, yet victorious, backdrop for Tuba Fats' final march.

Perhaps a mourning for the purity of New Orleans' native soundtrack, Tuba Fats' passing signals another break with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's heritage. Like any funeral, Tuba Fats' former colleagues reflect on their family heritage while marching to the cemetery. But, like any veteran New Orleans outfit, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band's Funeral is also quite fun. A fitting capstone, Dirty Dozen Brass Band lay Funeral for a Friend to rest with another longstanding eulogy: "Amazing Grace."

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