Trombone Shorty Spices Up His Blue Note Resume With Dynamic Guest Filled ‘Lifted’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Photo credit: Justen Williams

To understand the far-reaching appeal of megastar Trombone Shorty, (AKA Troy Andrews) one need only take it from an eight-year-old, this writer’s grandson, who innocently asked about my awareness of the NOLA icon.  Struck by this and responding to my curiosity, he later revealed that during Black History month his third-grade class was learning about Trombone Shorty and Ella Fitzgerald.  The youngster then, like most would do, put on Shorty’s music and began to dance. That will likely be the universal response to Shorty’s latest recording, Lifted out on Blue Note, designed to capture the energy of Shorty’s live show. In fact, it was after a show ended at the House of the Blues in New Orleans, that Shorty and the band kept going, sustaining the energy to cut the first track of the album in Shorty’s own Buckjump studio. 

The response to Trombone Shorty’s music for this generation and the aforementioned next one is akin to the wide appeal of Sly & The Family Stone fifty years ago. Look even closer and it’s a similar blending of funk, soul, R&B, and psychedelic rock. There’s a pop glean to both but with Shorty, that infectious second line and hip-hop beats blur the genre lines even further. The sound is so universal that his band has appeared in just about every major festival – some regardless of whether the festival carries a rock, folk, or jazz in its banner. Who else can attract a major blues guitarist such as Gary Clark Jr., pop singer Lauren Daigle, his high school marching band rhythm section, and the New Breed Brass Band to an album and make it all fit seamlessly?

The album opens with “Come Back,” as Shorty sings over a hip-hop groove fueled by organ, a bottom-heavy sound, background vocalists, and his own punchy trombone and trumpet. Like much of the album it deals lyrically with loss and regret but a determination to push forward. “Lie to Me” marries African chanting in its beginning with a funky groove while “I’m Standing Here” speaks to the ability to withstand whatever the world throws his way as Gary Clark Jr. more than matches that level of intensity in his combustible guitar solo. Daigle joins with the leader in the funky “What It Takes,” another in that carries the theme of overcoming times of struggle and somehow finding strength.  The jubilant “Everybody in The World” certainly conjures the live show, making it easy to envision a dancing crowd with arms held high in the air gyrating to the brassy sound augmented by The New Brass Band.

The album was produced by Chris Seefried as was 2017’s Parking Lot Symphony.  Both bear the name “Trombone Shorty” while previous efforts and tours often carry “Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.” In any case, it appears that the personnel of the band have changed with about half of the musicians consistent across both albums and half new. Returning members are guitarists Pete Murano, tenorist BK Jackson, and baritone saxophonist Dan Oestreicher. Newcomers are drummer Alvin Ford Jr., bassist Mike Bass-Bailey, and keyboardist Brandon Butler. There are others who play bass, Joshua Connelly on guitar on select tracks, a varying cast of background vocalists, and instrumental contributions from the producer and the guests.

The title track features rock guitar and swirling rhythms in a feel-good love song with the title ostensibly inspired by his late mother, pictured holding him up as a little boy at a second line on the album cover. “Forgiveness” leans into R&B, buoyed by three background vocalists. “Miss Beautiful” carries the most direct second-line vibe with the constant refrain of “lighten it up.”  “Might Not Make It Home” goes even further, urging us to totally let go with lines that reference the earlier comparison to Sly – “Wanna take you higher.”  Finally, “Good Company” is another danceable number to the notion of a shooting star-like physical attraction. 

So, go ahead, in the words of that other famous song – “Dance to the Music.”  Trombone Shorty’s “Lifted” is the modern-day version.

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