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Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013

Trombone Shorty | Say That To Say This (Verve)

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Can’t blame a guy for trying—for wanting to branch out. The very history of New Orleans jazz is a motive, one of a music traveling up the river, of Louis Armstrong reinventing himself in Chicago and New York. Fresh ideas need new audiences, traditions become stagnant. And so goes Trombone Shorty’s third chapter of big-label excursion out of his roots and hometown, into the mainstreams of modern R&B, ironed-out funk, generic jam band groove and too-heavy guitar.

On his latest, the mannish Nola boy seems to borrow as much from Robert Randolph, or even the Usher’s of FM, as anything Satchmo-related. And maybe that’s to be expected, what with Verve Music Group pressures, bigger rooms to fill and the production of Raphael Saadiq. Sure there’s a righteous dose of grease on “Get the Picture” and traces of old Vieux Carre nights on “Vieux Carre.” But there’s plenty more of the likes of mindless fist-pumpers (“You and I”), disco-leaning pop polish (“Long Weekend”) and a sinful background relegation of that eponymous horn. The first reunion of The Meters in the studio in 30-plus years should alone be worth the price of admission, but turning the funk gods loose solely for the cool but schmaltzy “Be My Lady” is like asking nothing more of Pops than “A Wonderful World.” 

The slinky strut of “Sunrise,” or the back-of-town pimp walk of “Shortyville” are hard to deny—just check your feet or nodding head. But these are the winning exceptions that prove a minor, too-slick effort. It’s one that might go some miles toward making Shorty and his topnotch horns more of a household name, but purists will be left looking for more blow, less show.