Trombone Shorty

Blue Note, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


This one is Jon Batiste’s fault. I’d heard the name Trombone Shorty before, but knew nothing about him beyond the traits suggested by his stage name until I picked up Batiste’s amazing 2021 album We Are and read the liner notes. The fact that the two are old friends and musical compadres from New Orleans provided all the information necessary to give this one a shot.

I do not regret it.

Trombone Shorty, who was born Troy Andrews, comes by his musical heritage honestly; his great-uncle played with Fats Domino and his mother Lois Nelson Andrews was a frequent grand marshal of jazz funerals and parades in New Orleans, where she was known as the “Mother of Music” and “Queen of the Tremé.” According to Wikipedia, Andrews started playing a trombone given to him at age four “because the family already had a trumpet player.” Playing out as a child he was always the shortest in the band—until he wasn’t anymore, but by then the name had stuck.

Like his friend Jon, Trombone Shorty is a musical gourmand, mixing and matching flavors to achieve a tasty balance between neo-soul, traditional r&b and that particular horn-heavy New Orleans vibe—a little jazzy, a little gospel-ly, a lot soulful. (If you feel the need to call his music a “gumbo” and/or “jambalaya” of influences, I will groan out loud, but wink when no one’s looking.) Add to that potent mixture a dollop of Lenny Kravitz-esque retro-funk-rock and you’ve got Shorty’s new album Lifted.

It’s all there from the first bars of opener “Come Back”—slinky Muscle Shoals guitar, a pulsing rhythm section, rich Hammond organ, sharp blasts of horns, and a keening falsetto that subsequently dips into a soulful lower register. The lyric is a classic blues trope—I did you wrong, I’m sorry, please come back… no really, I’m begging you—set to a dynamic, captivating arrangement that dials back into a jazz-funk fugue before the fade. Second track “Lie To Me” amps up the horns with a punchy, cascading arrangement that has touches of Motown in the call-and-answer between instruments and vocals, capped by a big, bold trumpet solo from the maestro. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The first of three featured guests shows up immediately as guitar-slinger Gary Clark Jr. kicks off “I'm Standing Here” with a hammering electric riff before they drop into the song’s funkalicious verses. A small chorus of background vocalists helps the song feel more and more like a party as Andrews solos aggressively twice over the churning rhythm section before Clark re-enters for a blazing coup de grace. Yowza.

Lauren Daigle stops by to share lead vocals on the airy, gospel-tinged “What It Takes,” whose wide-open arrangement, pushing-pulling groove and call-and-answer vocals lead to a sweet trumpet solo on the bridge. “Everybody In The World” leans into the swing and sway at the heart of many of Andrews’ tunes, leading with a dynamic horn riff played by featured guests New Breed Brass Band before breaking things down for the snappy verses and snappier choruses. When Andrews and a crew of background vocalists sing “Life is waiting for you to live / Livin' your life now / Your time has come” it feels like both plea and command, a directive to the assembled in the pews.

The title track serves as a reminder that Trombone Shorty caught one of several breaks along the way as a member of the horn section on Lenny Kravitz’s 2005 world tour, coming on strong with a fat guitar riff before layering the horns and vocals on top. It’s a potent one-two punch that reaches its natural apex at the chorus on this muscular tune.

Andrews sets one of his more thoughtful and introspective lyrics to a dose of Philly soul as “Forgiveness” features prominent strings behind his smooth, dynamic lead vocal (“Forgiveness is easy; forgetting takes a long, long time.”) Then “Miss Beautiful” dives headlong into a driving r&b number with horns dancing around the edges of a complex vocal arrangement. “Might Not Make It Home” offers an example of the smartest decision Andrews makes, again and again: the horns are usually prominent, but they aren’t necessarily the lead instrument; sometimes they’re featured and sometimes they’re accents. When there’s a solo, most of the time it’s him, but he’s always more focused on serving the song than occupying the spotlight.

Most of all, Andrews writes and performs with a rare combination of precision and fluidity; every element of these often-complex arrangements feels like it’s right where it should be, yet the songs also have a natural, effortless looseness and flow. Closer “Good Company” embodies all of these traits with a number that combines Earth Wind & Fire-like pinpoint horns with funked-up, finger-snapping ’70s soul verses that lead into soaring gang vocal choruses. Even on the breakdowns this one feels like it’s all drive and lift.

You might expect someone whose principal instrument is trombone to play jazz, and some of these songs have a jazzy feel in places, but Trombone Shorty’s musical vision is widescreen and all-inclusive in way that can feel both startling and obvious, simply because every chance he takes here works. Lifted is a bravura piece of music-making from a New Orleans original who learned all the right lessons from the masters and is now busy blazing his own unique path.

Rating: A-

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