If you’re looking for a CD that reflects all that is good about New Orleans and why its musical and cultural importance is unequivocally important, then look no further than Matt Perrine’s recent release, Sunflower City. Sousaphone and bass player Perrine has been on the NOLA music scene for years, participating in such bands as the brass-heavy New Orleans Nightcrawlers in the mid to late ’90s, to his more recent trippy funk outfit, Bonerama. Sunflower City highlights many of the city’s finest musicians, including clarinetist Tim Laughlin, cornetist Connie Jones, pianist Tom McDermott, Washboard Chaz, drummer Stanton Moore, James "12" Andrews on trumpet and vocals, and Big Chief Alfred Doucet, just to name a few.
Also included on this CD are two tracks with special guests, the Pfister Sisters, whose throwback 1940s-radio-style, tight harmonic vocals provide flare on the risqué "May May" and "Miss Tourist," making the cuts even more danceably infectious. (Debbie Davis, the last member to join the Pfister Sisters, is Perrine’s wife, and Perrine wrote horn arrangements for its jazzy 2003 recording, Change in the Weather.)
On Sunflower City, an album that epitomizes New Orleans’ eclecticism and wealth of talent, there are also ballad gems such as "I May Be Wrong" and "I’ll Think of You/Lullaby." "I May Be Wrong" features John Parker on vocals and banjo. This wonderful, yet seldom-played Sullivan/Ruskin song from 1929 has somehow slipped through the cracks, only to have been thankfully resurrected from the archives by Perrine. The album ends with one of the few recorded sousaphone/piano duets, "I’ll Think of You/Lullaby," a tender meditation that allows Perrine’s melodic sense and McDermott’s key tickling to shine.
Perrine’s sousaphone playing is amazingly fluid, groovy and always harmonically interesting. He feels right at home with his other smaller brass instrumental cronies, blowing consistently amazing solos, which he does often on this album. For example, he has some great runs on the exuberant first cut, "Muskrat Ramble."
What would a New Orleans brass album be without an all-out, second-line flavored jam? That’s what happens on the CDs title cut. With its erratic brass interjections and the unmistakable New Orleans shuffle holding it together, it’s like a beautifully overdressed po-boy that you shouldn’t really finish if you know what’s good for you.
On Sunflower City Perrine reminds us all that NOLA is keeping its sunny disposition alive despite it all, and that any talk of commercializing the city or reimagining its racial or cultural identity should be put to rest. New Orleans is a treasure and so is this CD.