Jon Cleary Steps Out Solo With ‘Live at Chickie Wah Wah’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The English born, “New Orleans bred”, Grammy winner Jon Cleary is stepping out on his own, releasing his first solo record, captured during a night of unfiltered playing.   showcases Cleary’s love for his adopted hometown and brings the listener intimately into one of his Tuesday night piano set’s from the New Orleans famed Mid City venue.

The songs are a historical tour but also a lively in-the-moment celebration of the town’s amazing music/culture. Boogie-woogie kicks things off with a motoring version of “Po’ Boy Blues” that showcases the piano player’s dexterity and warm voice. The rolling blues of Cleary’s  “Unnecessarily Mercenary” eases over the grooving ivories before the clock gets turned back to the mid 1930’s for “Sweet Jelly Rollin” recalling Whistlin’ Rufus, proving the blues are timeless.

Things slow down for his take on Nat King Cole’s “The Very Thought of You” and while Cleary’s voice is not up to those soaring heights, his controlled delivery works fine in this intimate live setting. A nod to Smiley Lewis with “Dirty People” adds some swagger to things while the slow “Guess Who?” is an old rhythm and blues number covered by lots of artists, but Cleary learned the tune from his friend Snooks Eaglin who he played with all around town.

That personal feel, the deep cuts and the artist’s unadulterated love for all things New Orleans is the heart of this disk. For people new to the sounds of the city there are countless easier entry points but for long time fans these deep tracks and personal performances make for an engaging listen.     

From the soulful “Beg Steal or Borrow” to Cleary’s grooving “Pump It Up” to the set closing “So Damn Good” (which even in this stripped down solo style still cooks) Cleary is in control. Confident and showcasing his strengths on his own, Live at Chickie Wah Wah is a testament to Cleary, New Orleans and the musical history that flows through it all.     

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