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Monday, Nov. 29, 2010

Kermit Ruffins

Happy Talk (Basin Street)

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Fresh from introducing his modern-day-Satchmo shtick to the world—or at least the HBO-subscribing world—on the series “Treme,” the ever-smiling, Bud-swigging, pot-smoking barbecue master and trumpet-slinging bandleader that couldn’t give two hoots of his horn as to who Elvis Costello is releases his first crack at the big-band format. Clarinetist Michael White headlines a seven-piece section that runs through Sam Cooke, “If I Only Had a Brain,” a couple of half-baked originals and the usual gamut of Louis Armstrong standards.

From the studio, Ruffins’ work is generally of a piece: strutting defiance of tough times (“Ain’t That Good News”); endless celebration of the little things—“Talk about things you like to do,” he sings in the title track, seemingly hitting on his personal creed; and cheesy anthems of puppy-dog love for the city of New Orleans (“I Got a Treme Woman”).

His distinctive warmth and charm as a studio performer (with Ruffins it’s always the singer and not the song) seem to wane in comparison to his ebullient onstage, man-about-town charisma. But, live or on record, it’s nigh impossible to find a better purveyor of both the New Orleans sound and the template of le bon temps roule. And, like usual, the results here are somewhere between a Quarter tourist’s wet-dream lounge act and a Ninth Ward rent party. Either way, never has an album been more aptly titled.