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10 in '10/11 in '11: Best Music

Sure, we sent them the horns and the swing. The funk and the kings (of the street). But this year, NOLA exported some seriously diverse music from the provinces to the nation.

The line between mass-moving dubstep, pants-on-the-ground bounce, and sauntering-gypsy-sorta-thing is disjointed, to say the least. But with appearances for some of our best ranging from SXSW to Pitchfork to the New York Times Magazine, that bench strength that everyone always gives our local scene credit for seems to be catching ears everywhere.


Here's 10 acts who had a colossal 2010, and 11 we think might be poised to have an equally huge year next. We're bad at ranking, so there's no particular order.





  1. Kermit Ruffins - Kermit opened ‘10 with a blast, seemingly everywhere: recording new spots for the OZ, tattooing a giant Fleur de Lis on his chest to support the Saints, (letting ESPN photograph the ink,) and oh yeah, doing that Treme show on HBO. His popular Happy Talk album in the fall only added to his national appeal, but the hometown boy has not forgotten his roots, keeping his regular gigs at Vaughns and Bullets, and finding time to sit in with his old outfit, ReBirth Brass Band.
  2. Mystikal - After six long years in Louisiana's Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, Mystikal came back on January 15, 2010. First thing he did? Called New Orleans’ own Q93.3FM to say, “What up?” He then jumped right back in the game, recording an album in Baton Rouge, performing at the Zulu Ball, and hitting up Trombone Shorty’s set during Jazz Fest. He went on to have his own show at the House of Blues in the heat of August, and has been working on completing his new (still untitled) album in collaboration with Master P. His comeback was in ‘10 (and we're still waiting on his transition from a Myspace music profile), but Michael Ernest Tyler may get that much louder in ‘11.
  3. Trombone Shorty - 2010 was the Year of Troy. It seems that everyone in town (including Treme’s fictitious Antoine Baptiste) wanted to play with Shorty, and he obliged, appearing everywhere, including a certain Grammy nod and the top of the BillBoard Charts with his latest album, Backatown. We love the title, and the sound is a pleasant evolution, a bit more 'produced' than past efforts. However, what makes any member of the Andrews family great is not studio production, but the raw sound of a street performer, the audience working tricks of Jackson Square that they bring to the stage... and, if you saw Shorty in 2010, you know he still can work the crowd!
  4. Why are we building Such a Big Ship? - You know what they say- once they’re pumping you in but really, it’s been a big year for Aubrey Freeman, Aurora Nealand, James K, John Gerkin, Misha Heil, Walt McClements, Yosi Perlstein and all the ORs that come and go with the tides (naming each member still manages to take less time than saying the full name of the band). Maybe it’s Gypsy Jazz, maybe it’s Freak Folk, Eastern European Dance perhaps, but rather than make the (unneccessary) effort to label this impressive musical mass, focus on the 3 self-released albums, McClements' respiratory organ (his accordian), the soft upright bass, the hide-and-seek horn section, and vocals that straddle punk, indie-rock, and hymns. Look out for more from this hyperlocal hyperinventive herd, along with their label and support of Domino Sound (of Domino Record Shack).
  5. Big Freedia and Rusty Lazer -  With a New York Times Magazine spread, a prominent billing at the Austin indiestravaganza SXSW, and that forthcoming video, Big Free was everywhere in 2010. Even C. Ray Nagin was consulting her for design tips. But is Freedia’s gospel of Bounce ready for prime time? Judging by how Rusty Lazer’s been moving the St. Roch Tavern Saturday nights, a takeover seems imminent. And if we’re lucky, maybe the kids will be able to explain the inherent gender identity underpinnings of the music to justify it to their parents. Okay, well, maybe not. Hands on the ground.
  6. Smiley with a Knife - We know your influences, SWAK. Just because you live in New Orleans, don’t think you can escape comparisons to Don Caballero and Explosions in the Sky. Like most of the NOLA rock scene, the Smileys wear proud a brand of music that went out of style with hipsters somewhere in the neighborhood of three years ago. But on the backs of their second album Long Now, the instrumental spacemath progenitors are poised to keep their subsubgenre alive. If it can still be this brutal and beautiful at the same time, we’re happy someone is.
  7. Happy Talk Band - For about fifteen minutes, we loved this band because so many members come from the Morning Forty Federation. However, once we heard them play, we loved them because of their music. Their newest album Starve A Fever received national accolades for a complex mix of country, rockabilly, and NOLA.
  8. Magnolia Shorty - Shorty’s tragic, (way) too-soon death didn’t propel her to this year’s spotlight. The woman (real name Renetta Lowe) was holdin’ it down throughout, providing a constant reminder (pre-Nicki M.) that there was a female who could get just as vulgar as the boys before the sissies came on the scene. On national and local dates, Magnolia Shorty served as an anchor for the scene. She was still active enough to be offering fresh ideas, and seasoned enough to know her way from Caesar’s to Weezy’s Miami digs. To say she’ll be missed is an understatement. Her death leaves a big, gaping void in the shadows under highway overpasses.
  9. DJ Soul Sister - Soul Sister has been the Queen of Vinyl in New Orleans for over fifteen years as host of Soul Power on WWOZ, a weekly show dedicated to funk soul and rare grooves from the 1960's, 70's, and early 80's.  She is a prolific DJ locally and worldwide, with her long-standing gig HUSTLE and performances at nearly every major (and not-so major) festival in New Orleans, in addition to appearances across the US and worldwide.  One of the few DJs still dedicated to vinyl (for the younger generation, think of them as kind of like "big CD's"), her mix includes a diverse range of not only funk & soul, but discotheque,  jazz fusion, boogie, and hip hop. Be sure to peep Soul Sister’s ‘Hola Nola: Celebrity Mixtape’ this Thursday, and catch her live for the HUSTLE party at Mimi's in the Marigny for NYE 2K11.
  10. Stooges Brass Band - If every brass band has its day, 2010 marked the arrival of Stooges. They cemented a Thursday night gig at the Hi-Ho Lounge that has become a stopping point for Social and Pleasure Clubs on their way to Sunday SecondLine glory. They were everywhere in between. And, to top it off, they won the Red Bull-sponsored brass blowout under the Claiborne bridge in October against marching units that have always been a touch further to thetip of everyone’s tongues. Don’t think this counts as 15 minutes in the limelight. For a band that’s been around for years, the Stooges only seem to be hitting the triumphant arrival at Second and Dryades of their career.


  1. TBC (To Be Continued Brass Band) - These George Washington Carver alumns enshrined themselves as local legend by bringing the sounds of the Seventh Ward straight to Bourbon & Canal (right outside the FootLocker.) When the new administration tried to shut them down, the public backlash was too great. Yet, it looks like their days of busking are numbered... TBC has been in the studio recording an album, featured on TV, played a string of Jazzfests, and done a few European tours. Don’t expect them to be playing for tips much longer.
  2. Aurora Nealand - This name has been mentioned in our Top 10 in ‘10 list, as she plays accordion accordingly, and Jazz Sax w/ WAWBSABS?, but Nealand somehow finds time to get down with Panorama Jazz, Sweet Nothings, Glasses of Love, Stagger Back Brass Band, Veveritse, and a regular Thursday gig at The Spotted Cat with The New Orleans Moonshiners. Not too least HBO’s Treme thought so, when deciding to feature her playing on the series’ fifth episode. This Oberlin grad proves her conservertory chops with performance and composition, so keep an open ear for more original works from this Klezmer-Jazz-Balkan beat next year.
  3. Jean-Eric - If Fischerspooner took too much Five-Hour Energy on a roadtrip to the Dirty South, you would have Jean-Eric.  One part crunk, one part lounge, a healthy dash of outrageous costuming, and shaken heavily with dance and theatrics, these avante garde performers started to break out in 2010. The group performed alongside local institutions like the Gris Gris Dancers, and inside local institutions like NOMA. Look for bigger and better in 2011.
  4. Maddie Ruthless - It’s not just coincidence for this ‘Rocksteady Queen of New Orleans’ that Dubstep has stepped into the NOLA spotlight as of (not so) recent, for Maddie Ruthless has been spinning the tropics, and performing her own reggae/ska influenced tracks for some time. MR bridges her born-n-raised New Orleans influences with Carribean flavor, with a punky brewster ‘tude that lights the flame for one dance party after the next. Her local frequents include Bayou Road’s Domino Record Shack and the L.G.D.’s Saint, but Ruthless has taken her talent abroad with a European tour. Catch her while she’s home, and be ready to move.
  5. Curren$y - The resurgence of a No Limit Soldier that seemed to be a casualty of success is proably one of the most overlooked stories in a hip-hop year dominated by asses movin’ around the clock. But make no mistake, Currensy has no shortage of national following, and while his laidback musings may not be as boisterous as a Dwayne Carter, he seems to understand that the path to staying power lies somewhere between the mixtape, inventive beats, and self reinvention.
  6. Khris Royal - Frenchmen’s sax wunderkind has grown up and is ready to bust out. It seems Royal is playing everywhere, backing up Big Sam and George Porter, and building a following with his project, Dark Matter. Royal’s NOLA roots are unmistakeable in his play, but the heavy influences of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and Chick Corea bring a refreshing twist to our native sound.
  7. Sarah Jane McMahon - For years, our hometown Diva has been quietly building a name for herself in both the music community and the community of New Orleans. Our favorite Yale alumnus crossed over from musicals to opera a few years back, and has been wowing them since. This year saw her take a lead role back home with the New Orleans Opera, as well as release of a second CD, Night of Silence.
  8. Big History - New Orleans Dream Pop now brought to you by the opposite of what these guys self-proclaim; Big History is far from a page in a book, and are starting off 2011 right with Park The Van/OpenHouseMusic’s NYE 2k11 Throwdown in Mid-City. There the band will play alongside hot in ‘10 Jean-Eric, Empress Hotel, Partners N Crime, and more to bring in the New Year, and ride the wave. These unsignees released their first single ‘Every Bone’ and have followed up with ‘All At Once’, which seems to be a theme in Big History’s them now, before anyone else tells you to.
  9. PantyRaid - New Orleans native, Ooah, forms half of this dubstep duo. After logging some time, building a following as dance party hosts, the pair have bought their bass beats to the masses, breaking out with the hit single “Beba.” Their recent trips back to NOLA have seen packed houses, but we think this is just the beginning for such a unique sound.
  10. The Other Planets - if anything’s hip in 2011, it’s genre-bending. Anthony Cuccia and The Other Planets proved that a finger could not be placed with the 2008 success of Holiday For Vacationers: Everything Awesome All The Time, and the band has returned with a fourth studio release, 2010’s Hello Beams. The boys seem to settle down a bit this time around, nestling into a (still wayward) pop with melting harmonies constructed of powerfully polished vocals. Hello Beams is sure to carry T.O.P. into the New Year and beyond.
  11. The Generationals - Ever heard of ‘em? These two have not only known NOLA their whole lives, but each other for most of their waking days. Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer have had a pretttty pretttty good year, between the Trust EP, SXSW, CMJ, a few Pitchfork nods here and there, and a set of 2011 dates already in place (catch them at the Blue Nile on January 14...your welcome). We know they’re ‘so hot right now’ but we predict bigger and better blessings in the generation to come.


*Wait! Check out the NoDef 'Places to Eat' Nods too!

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