Any artist making a commitment to the music scene in post-Katrina New Orleans merits celebration. It helps when you can lay down infectious grooves and songs the way Papa Grows Funk does. Led by keyboardist John "Papa" Gros, the quintet's new CD Mr. Patterson's Hat demonstrates their love for the Crescent City on many levels.
Musically Papa Grows Funk delivers what its name promises: straight-up Nawlins funk, heavy on the backbeat and infectious to the feet. "Jellybean" Alexander anchors the group with pronounced, no-nonsense rhythms, assisted by bassist Marc Pero. Gros grooves on keyboards and lead vocals while Jason Mingledorff lays down inspired sax solos. The group's secret weapon, however, is guitarist June Yamagishi. Whether laying down a wah-wah rhythm, doubling Mingledorff on lead or stretching out on his own, the guitarist puts a rock-influenced twist on the funk band sound. He gives the band a unique identity almost as much as the leader's vocals and organ.
Papa Grows Funk's love for New Orleans shows not only in the styles they play but in the songs they perform. "Mr. Patterson's Hat" refers to a denizen of the band's hometown club, the Maple Leaf Bar. (Simply put, if the hat ain't bouncin', the music ain't happenin'.) Another local fan gets immortalized in the song "John Brown." A shuffling instrumental, "Slapjack," pays homage to blues legend Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, who passed away shortly after escaping Katrina's devastation. Several of the band's songs refer to their hometown as well, the best being "Walkin' in Our Own Shoes." It carries an anti-crime message but can be taken in a larger context as a message of self-help as well.
It's obvious this band loves this city, as they returned less than two months after the hurricane to set up shop again. If music is a healing force, Papa Grows Funk might just cure what ails you. And they're probably a treat to catch live.