Old Friends – Joe Krown Trio
April and May serve as a veritable gold mine for the New Orleans music industry. With a flood of tourists coming to town for the French Quarter Festival and the massive New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, anybody who’s anybody releases an album at this time. Longtime sideman for the late Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Joe Krown has jumped on the release train with Old Friends. Where Krown’s recent solo albums have centered around his funky jams on the Hammond B-3, Old Friends finds him sitting exclusively behind a baby grand, reveling in a boogie-woogie trio with guitarist/vocalist Brint Anderson and drummer Mike Barras.
Like many New Orleans releases this time of year, Old Friends has a definite focus on classic tunes the Crescent City made famous. Thankfully, Krown’s trio delivers these standards with both passion and a playful, devil may care’ attitude. Utilizing Anderson’s spirited vocals and guest Michael Skinkus lively percussion, ‘Junko Partner’ romps with a defiant sense of fun, while the gospel-inflected intro to ‘Tipitina’ gives way to a casual shuffle that eventually climaxes on an excellent piano solo. ‘Feel So Good’ bounces along with an infectious, happy-go-lucky attitude, and St. James Infirmary has the appropriate amount of sorrow.
The remaining third of the album is comprised of Krown’s instrumental originals. While he has a tough task in making his own compositions stack up to bonafide New Orleans classics, some of his songs fit the bill. It Wasnt Me, a jumpy and rollicking number that is aided by saxophonist Brent Rose, follows "Tipitina" and truly sounds like a perfect sequel to Professor Longhair’s gem. Old Friends is full of wistful blues and almost cries out for Randy Newman to add some sardonic vocals. The Royal Boogie truly cooks and gives Krown plenty of space to jitterbug across the keys, but the fun stops on the plodding dirge of Tchoupitoulous St. Rag, which employs a very pedestrian and lethargic drumbeat.
Although many famous New Orleans pianists have tackled similar material while sounding as if they were on the verge of becoming unhinged, this is not the case with Krown, as he always sounds in control. Nevertheless, he does seem to have quite a lot of fun on those 88 keys. His sound is clean but still fresh, lively, and exciting, and this stylistic juxtaposition provides a unique interpretation of some frequently played compositions. Moreover, Krown’s cohorts bring a laid-back, informal attitude to their work. As a result, the entire record sounds like a few compadres gathered in a parlor room to have a good time, making Old Friends a very aptly-titled and enjoyable album.