Release Year: 2014
Label: Orleans Records
- What I’m Talkin’ About
- Go On Fool
- As The World Turns
- Beating Like A Tom Tom
- Pretty Acres
- Tell It Like It Is
- Try A Little Love
- I’m Leaving You
- Walk That Walk
- Many Rivers To Cross
- Carlo Ditta – Vocals, Guitar
- Chris Lacinak – Drums
- Chewy Black – Drums
- Anthony Donado – Drums
- Vernon Rome – Bass
- David Hype – Bass
- Earl Stanley – Bass
- Robert Snow – Bass
- Steve Allen – Saxophone
- Charlie Miller – Trumpet, Piano
- Ruby Moon – Background Vocals
- David Rebeck – Accordion
Reviewed In OffBeat
Robert Fontenot (December 2014 Issue)
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Carlo Ditta in keeping the best of the New Orleans music scene alive the last 30 years, both as producer, songwriter, and guitarist and also as founder and head of Orleans Records.
Coco Robichaux, Mighty Sam McClain, Marva Wright, Ironing Board Sam, Little Freddie King—they all owe him something.
Now here’s Carlo’s own, teased out over the past few years with a single here and there, and it’s a revelation, a strangely wonderful set that, at its best, melds John Prine’s wit to Tom Waits’ mouth and rocks the swamp while doing so.
It’s so offhand listeners might miss the brilliance at first, since he’s grumbling more often than singing, but thanks to both its groove and Ditta’s offhand observation, the opening title track approaches some sort of Randy Newman level of sleaze-as-art.
The rest of the album, with a track list that consistently pits originals against covers in an iron cage death match, follows suit—Carlo might as well be making it up as he goes along on his excellent and unjustly ignored 2011 single “As the World Turns,” but he’s not:
“Although it’s for eternity / some love is still maternity / and all love starts so sweet and romantically / and it all ends so silently.”
The B-side is elegant folk about the days of Louis Prima, and it’s here, too, along with “I’m Leaving You,” a Prima cover, recast with weary desperation.
That also proves his point. Mixing a sigh and a shrug with a wink and a kiss is sort of the game mechanics behind these performances; in this context, “Many Rivers to Cross” feels like the last gasp of a dying man, “Tell It Like It Is” the sound of a man whispering in his beer.
No one expected Carlo to come out and beat Tony Joe White at his own game in this science-fiction year of 2014, but his label’s always been about surprise discoveries, hasn’t it?
Reviewed on VinylDistrict.com
He’s played a vital role in the New Orleans music scene for well over a quarter century, but as a performer Carlo Ditta’s flown under the radar due to a lack of retail product. Split between originals and covers, drawing upon the traditions of his city and distinctly conjuring roots-infused erudition, his What I’m Talkin’ About has been in the racks for nearly a year without reaching the listenership it deserves. It’s available on LP, CD, and digital via Ditta’s own Orleans Records.
Carlo Ditta has done a fair amount of moving around in his life, spending time in New York City, residing for a year in Nashville, and undertaking two different California stays, specifically in Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, but even in its absence New Orleans remained central to the activities of the singer-songwriter, guitarist, producer, and label operator.
Those last two credits have resulted in Ditta becoming a New Orleans fixture as he’s helped to document and shape the city’s modern musical history. The label is Orleans Records, and amongst the artists to have flourished through its auspices are gospel-tinged soulster Mighty Sam McClain, resuscitated Ace Records R&B figure Roland Stone, and a diverse slate of bluesmen including Guitar Slim Jr., Little Freddie King, Robert Lowery, and Ironing Board Sam.
Orleans’ discography additionally holds the indigenous stylings of the Original Pin Stripe Brass Band and entries by the great Danny Barker and his wife Blue Lu. Along the way Ditta played some terrific guitar behind Dorothy Goodman on her song “Born with the Blues,” as Marva Wright’s version of the tune later provided the title-track to her Ditta-produced album for Sky Ranch/Virgin. The same company issued New Yorker Willy DeVille’s Victory Mixture to a receptive European audience; produced by Ditta and featuring the contribution of Allen Toussaint on piano, it gave Orleans Records a gold disc.
If Ditta’s biggest seller as an entrepreneur, critical acclaim was in bountiful supply, particularly for Stone’s Dr. John-assisted comeback Remember Me; esteemed critic Robert Palmer and poet/activist/MC5-associate John Sinclair were amidst the converted. Indicative of his locale’s recurring impulse for stylistic hybridization, Ditta was admirably unafraid of branching out, as Orleans aided in the distribution of the rockabilly-ish Johnny J & the Hitmen, the gypsy jazz of Tony Green, and a spate of advanced swamp science from Coco Robicheau.
All of the above and a little more comprises The Orleans Records Story, not only a nicely digestible 17-track primer into the imprint’s achievements (and also quite informative, as the booklet offers a sweet mess of context derived from an extensive interview with Sinclair) but a very fine prologue to Ditta’s long overdue first LP.
Occasionally striking, What I’m Talking About mingles maturity with a measure of risk. Consistently exuding an abundance of personality, in lesser hands the playful swagger emitted by this three-sets-on-a-Saturday-night sage could’ve easily spelled a disaster of approximated realness. Although he can come on kinda strong at certain moments, Ditta’s extroverted comportment and delivery synch up well with his influences and past experience, the blend of tradition and individuality resonating as legit. Missing is the desperation to impress that has branded others as cut-rate Fonzie wannabes.
The opening title cut puts Ditta’s nervy approach across without delay, the guitar-funk scenario resonating like a blend of Tony Joe White and Alex Chilton circa Feudalist Tarts. The comparison to Chilton (who played rhythm guitar on Johnny J & the Hitmen’s J-Walkin’) is intensified through lyrics toying with an old-school style of smack talk (“you’re lookin’ good baby/just like a little ugly girl should”) that some might find a tad contemporaneously off-putting. But rather than OD on attitude, a thread of sophistication gets introduced by the flute of key album contributor Steve Allen.
Next is a treatment of a composition co-penned by New Orleans lynchpin Dave Bartholomew and Dorothy Esther. Often those choosing to tackle selections of such richness and import elect to render them in a straightforward, respectful manner; Ditta takes the opposite (though far from impertinent) approach, his “Go on Fool” differing from the jump blues/’50s R&B of Smiley Lewis’ first recording, instead oozing a bluesy-jazzy guitar-horns concoction, Charlie Miller’s trumpet especially vibrant as Ditta sings like it’s the morning after a wild night before.
He also avoids getting stuck idling in one roots-focused gear. “As the World Turns” is a prime example of his own material’s range, adding a touch of social commentary to a crisp singer-songwriter-like template that’s elevated by bright-hued guitar, welcoming accordion from David Rebeck, and an adroit tenor solo from Allen.
Perhaps similar to a Springsteen-esque road not taken by the young Tom Waits, it’s a passionate yet relatively reserved situation in contrast to the sheer gush of emotion defining “Pretty Acres.” A tribute to New Orleans cornerstone Louis Prima, it’s earthy anthemic upsurge might be too much for some, but Ditta gives his axe a serious strumming, the band is fully clicking, and by the end it’s obvious more than one couple will dance in a long embrace as it plays and subsequently declare it to be “their” song.
It helps that “Pretty Acres” is surrounded by two gemlike covers, the first a reading of Ernie K-Doe’s “Beating Like a Tom Tom” that recalls the dancehall balladry of the early rock ‘n’ roll era but with a touch so deft it leaves nary a trace of oldies revue detritus. Even better is the version of Aaron Neville’s stone classic “Tell It Like It Is,” Ditta’s conversational manner working in exquisite harmony with the expert motions of his band.
The personnel does alternate as What I’m Talking About unwinds, though one trim lineup gets spotlighted for the blues rock instrumental “Try a Little Love,” its engine motored by the sturdy rhythm section of drummer Chewy Black and bassist David Hyde as Vic LaRocca’s gnawing slide guitar rides atop. It’s followed by “I’m Leaving You,” noted as the last song Prima recorded in the mid-‘70s. Prima’s casual stateliness (privately pressed onto 45) is swapped out for a mood of desperation as Ditta tries to convince himself to go through with the titular claim.
“Walk That Walk” brings back the Tony Joe White aura across a mid-tempo groover enhanced by Rick Stelma’s electric piano and the gruffness of Andrew Bernard’s baritone sax. It sets up the swell warmth of the closing Jimmy Cliff inspection “Many Rivers to Cross,” Ditta’s influences proving as broad as his geographical movements.
Earlier in 2015 we lost Mighty Sam McClain and just last week the amazing Allen Toussaint; as these crucial artists depart this sphere it can surely seem like a door is in the process of closing. Carlo Ditta was an associate of both, and though his intention here was to simply get a record into the stores, listening to What I’m Talking About also sounds like the carrying of a torch. Making its acquaintance has been a pleasure, and fans of New Orleans’ glorious sonic legacy are encouraged to check it out.