SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Dirty Dozen Brass Band – What’s Going On – Shout Factory (2006)/ PurePleasure audiophile stereo vinyl

Dirty Dozen Brass Band interpreting a Marvin Gaye classic, post Hurricane Katrina.

Published on February 10, 2013

Dirty Dozen Brass Band – What’s Going On – Shout Factory (2006)/ PurePleasure PPAN SF10178 audiophile stereo vinyl [Remastered by Ray Staff at Air Mastering, London] ****:

(Gregory Davis, trumpet; Kevin Harris, tenor sax; Roger Lewis, baritone sax; Efrem Towns, trumpet, flugelhorn; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Revert Andrew trombone; Terence Higgins, drums; Jamie McLean, guitar;  With special guests – Ben Peeler and Doug Bossi, guitar; Leon Mobley, percussion; Anthony Marinelli, keyboards, and vocalists, Chuck D, Ivan Neville, G Love, Guru, and Betty LaVette)

When The Dirty Dozen Brass Band released What’s Going On, a year after Hurricane Katrina, and the outrage expressed over the government’s mishandling of recovery efforts, the band’s CD struck a strong chord with the public as their interpretation of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 environmental manifesto expressed their anger. Now it is near eight years later and the blighted areas of New Orleans largely remain with thousands of families still displaced, both by unscrupulous contractors, state and federal government inaction. The recent Super Bowl in NOLA largely glossed over these sad facts and the Crescent City remains unhealed.

It is an appropriate time for PurePleasure, the audiophile record label from England, to revisit this Dirty Dozen release, in pristine remastered sound to remind us that there is still much work to be done in the recovery effort.

In their 2006 release, the band recruited some all-star vocalists (listed above) to put their touch to the band’s brass section. Chuck D’s rap lent an appropriate anger and outrage, and the other vocalists’ contributions add to the mood. The mixture of New Orleans funk mated with Gaye’s soul tunes is enhanced by tight grooves, gospel, and heavy beats.

Mayor Ray Nagin (now indicted) has the opening quasi statement post disaster before Chuck D sets new vocals on the title track backed by the trombone and bari sax bottom end. Enough of Gaye’s original melody is kept to satisfy our craving for this classic tune. “What’s Happening Brother” features Betty LaVette in a gritty vocal backed by a heavy percussive beat that still sounds very contemporary today. “Flying High” follows and provokes feelings of contemplation for better days. “Save the Children” is given the Mardi Gras treatment with great sax and guitar grooves.

Ivan Neville arranged “God is Love” and its palette of colors is especially memorable. G Love handles the vocals on “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and the horns salvage the sweet fondness for Marvin’s original tune. “Right On” attempts for outrage and action sound a bit dated on Marvin’s original issue, but the Dirty Dozen’s version is a welcome mix of gospel, and soul that is refreshing and among the best tunes here.

“Inner City Blues” is the highlight track and after Guru’s opening rap the classic opens up with the DD’s horns shining, especially the sousaphone, and Higgins’ drums really kicking. It is a fitting closure to this album and lets the band’s horns really shine, what they do best.

Ray Staff has done his usual impeccable job in remastering and the horns sound as good as an upfront seat would provide in an acoustically balanced concert venue. For fans of Marvin Gaye’s most relevant release and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s NOLA-influenced horns, this is a recommended audiophile LP release.

Side A: What’s Going On, What’s Happening Brother, Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky), Save the Children, God is Love
Side B: Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology), Right On, Wholly Holy, Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)

—Jeff Krow

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