Backyard Groove – Kirk Joseph
As a founding member of New Orleans’ Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Kirk Joseph’s place is cemented in music history. Nowadays, he plays in multiple combinations in the Crescent City, and if you want a sousaphone on your record, he’s the man you call. After all, how many people have the hulking strength and iron lungs required to play the massive instrument? Moreover, how many people can do it onstage while smoking cigarettes and exhaling smoke through the bell of the horn?
After countless years of holding down the bottom end for numerous bands, Joseph is finally stepping to the forefront and releasing a solo effort, Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove. When you’ve played with as many famous New Orleans musicians as Joseph has, a lot of people owe you favors, and Joseph seemingly collected all of his I.O.U.‘s at once in assembling a dazzling array of Big Easy All-Star guests for this energetic and fun album.
Funk in all its various forms is the keystone of this disc, beginning with the noteworthy opening cut of "Laid Back," which may be the most appropriately named song in history. Joseph and drummer Kevin O’Day combine to form a slinking beat, and Raymond Williams’ trumpet and Raymond Jenkins’ saxophone create a horn line that is laid back to the point of falling over. If that’s not enough, Dr. John’s ultra cool vocals and piano turn this into one incredibly chill song.
A thumping P-Funk style number scorches in "Shit Straight," and later, the Bonerama horns add their real-life inspired "Blackout in New York City," a tight uptown funk romp that relies upon Joseph’s heavy sousaphone groove. His horn also comes to the forefront on the steamy "Thinking of Her," a mysterious tune that employs the saxes of Donald Harrison and Skerik. At the creative peak of a very good album, Theresa Andersson’s hypnotic violin enters the fray to propel the bizarre but infectious reggae groove of "No Meat." Finally, drummer "Mean" Willie Green cuts loose a driving New Orleans groove on the album closer, "A Walker’s Groove."
Although almost every song is enjoyable, not every one is a gem. The Dr. John-led "Can’t Get Started" is a piano lounge blues number that sounds a tad out of place on a disc full of raging funk. However, this track does yield the unintentional comedy of The Doctor singing, "I’ve flown around the world in a plane, I fought with terrorists in Afghanistan."
With a revolving door of guests, it was certainly challenge for Joseph to create a coherent sound on this album. However, Joseph and his distinct sousaphone lines are the glue that keeps Kirk Joseph’s Backyard Groove together. He merely holds down the bottom end in a way that makes his contributions pass by without fanfare or hoopla. There are no sousaphone solos or absurd flourishes, just solid basslines from his horn. In this day and age where so many musicians use solo projects as platforms to show-off, it’s refreshing to find an egoless solo artist who only wants to serve the songs and allow his compatriots their chance to shine. And when those compatriots are a bunch of top-notch ringers, that solo artist has a damn fine album on his hands.