After my first experience with French rockabilly which I described in my review of Limoncello Blues by Eddy Ray Cooper, I was curious when I was contacted about a couple of other French billy acts. Was Cooper’s gem of a record an anomaly, or was there really something to the French rockabilly scene?
Enter Chris Almoada. Shortly after the Cooper review, I received Almoada’s CD Come To New Orleans in my box. Well, I’m always game to listening to new music and I really did want to know what else the French scene had to offer.
Let’s not beat about the bush: Come To New Orleans is one of the most authentic-sounding rockabilly CDs I’ve heard in a while. Like Cooper, Almoada sings mostly in English with a fairly heavy French accent, but that’s absolutely the only thing that makes it obvious that this CD wasn’t recorded in Memphis back in 1956.
This CD sounds great, especially for fans of pure rockabilly. Almoada sticks extremely true to the original sound of rockabilly. With lots of emphasis on the “billy,” Amoada presents 16 rockin’ tracks that make you feel great, just like rockabilly should!
Most of the cuts feature a simple four-piece arrangement with drums, stand-up bass, great rockabilly lead guitar work, and an acoustic guitar chugging away in the background. Almoada has mixed some great cover tunes in with his equally convincing original tunes. You’ll be hard pressed to determine which songs are his originals and which are obscure rockabilly tunes from the 50s. Almoada definitely has the feel for this music down pat.
Almoada’s band—the Broken Hearts—includes his son Max Almoada on rhythm guitar, Pascal Freyche on upright bass, and Gaël Pétetin on drums and various percussion. This great crew is joined by Steve Rydell who plays lead guitar on one song, pianist JP Cardot, and Jean-Gatien Pasquier on trumpet. That’s right; trumpet in the best tradition of Sonny Burgess.
The band is tight and provides a solid backing over which Almoada shines. Pétetin often lays back on the drums to provide a less frantic rockabilly approach and give Almoada plenty of space for his guitar and voice. Freyche also fills in the rhythm with fine slap-bass style and interesting and active walking bass lines that keep a jazzy undercurrent flowing throughout the record.
For his part, Almoada adds stellar rockabilly guitar playing to his duties along with handling the vocals. This guy’s spent some serious time studying the rockabilly and classic country guitar styles. He plays tons of lead lines throughout every song, rarely falling back to rhythm playing. I have to wonder if he can maintain that type of playing in a live show situation. No one could blame him if he couldn’t because playing those kinds of leads while singing would be quite an impressive accomplishment.
All of this combines extremely well to build an upbeat, rollicking, rockabilly sound. The band doesn’t stray into roots rock or a straighter, more developed rock and roll territory. Rather, the guys seem to be happy right where they are in rockabilly. If anything, they lean more toward classic country and hillbilly boogie than rock and roll. For instance, “Show Me the Way to Go Home” is a fine duet in the style of the Louvin Brothers with a good portion of the hills packed around more fine guitar work.
“Wild, Wild Woman” adds great boogie woogie piano playing by Cardot which evokes the Jerry Lee Lewis style, which of course stretches back to the great R&B boogie woogie pianists of the 40s and earlier.
Almoada really shows off his guitar chops on the instrumental, “Cannonball Rag” written by the great Merle Travis. He does a great job with the hybrid picking style that Merle made famous and Chet Atkins expanded so wonderfully.
The record starts out with the title track, an Almoada original and is the first of two songs in which Pasquier joins in on trumpet. This song, as you might expect from the title, has a Cajun Zydeco feel to it and so the trumpet fits right in with a Jazzy New Orleans flair. It sounds very much like the trumpet on a Sonny Burgess tune and is a fun surprise to open a rockabilly record. The last song on the CD also features the trumpet, but this time it has much more of the Spanish horn sound of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”
Almoada has been on the rockabilly scene since the late 1970s after having discovered his love for authentic American rockabilly from the 50s while just a kid during the rockabilly revival that started picking up steam in Europe in the early 70s. Of course, he loved them all, but cites Wanda Jackson as one of his greatest inspirations. He started playing piano at the age of 11 and picked up the guitar in 1976. He’s been playing strong since then.
Years of practice and a deep love for the music definitely show through on this record. Amoada has a great understanding not only of the music itself, but also the recording of it. The record is the first released on Rydell Records and was recorded in the Rydell studios. It was produced and engineered by Steve Rydell and clearly between them Rydell and Almoada have a handle on the authentic sound.
Great use of echo on the guitar as well as the vocals lend wonderful authenticity to these recordings. As many bands have proven over the years, it’s extremely easy to pile a bunch of echo on everything thinking that will make it sound rockabilly, but it’s much more difficult than one would think to do it right. These guys got it right!
This really does sound like a record that could have been recorded almost 60 years ago. And yet, it doesn’t sound dated. The sound is full and rich. I’ve really enjoyed listening to this record.
If you’re looking for a very authentic-sounding rockabilly record with heavy classic country influence, great rockabilly guitar playing, and completely convincing production, Come to New Orleans is a great choice.