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The Wild Magnolias - They Call Us Wild

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Artist: The Wild Magnolias

Album: They Call Us Wild

Label: Sunnyside

Review date: Jun. 26, 2007

This double CD is as much a history lesson as it is a musical experience, the second CD containing a PDF file with 68 pages of text and images on these legendary Mardi Gras Indians, as well as full lyrics. The accompanying music dates from the mid-1970s, although much of it wasn’t released until the '90s. Fans of New Orleans R&B can rejoice at its re-release; with their wildly elaborate, brightly-colored costumes and uninhibited dance rhythms, the Wild Magnolias embody the spirit ofMardi Gras.

One of the many peculiarities of New Orleans is that this tribe of Mardi Gras Indians are black, working class, and play music far funkier than any Native American rhythms. The tribe has a long proud history, having been established in 1889 (seriously). (By comparison, the WildTchoupitoulas - who recorded in the '70s with such luminaries as Allen Toussaint , The Neville Brothers and The Meters - are novices, having been formed in 1967.) The origins of the Indian costumes lie in Native Americans' and blacks’ shared experience of slavery, and the resulting common cause between the two cultures.

During Mardi Gras, up to 20 neighborhood tribes of Indians take to the street, vying for attention and bragging rights. In the past, violent clashes between tribes were not uncommon, some even leading to fatalities; nowadays, rivalries are expressed more through costumes, music and dances. However, vestiges of that history are still to be found in songs such as “Meet The Boys (On The Battlefront)” - with its lyrics, “Meet the boys on the battlefront / the Wild Magnolias gonna bust a rump!” – and “Corey Died On The Battlefield.”

Although not recorded until the 1970s, this music was a key ingredient of the distinctive New Orleans sound for decades before. The call-and-response vocals and repeated chants here are to be found on many earlier recordings. Professor Longhair’s vocals on seminal recordings such as “Big Chief” display the influence. And, of course, that song title refers to the tribes’ leaders, each identified as the “big chief” (in the case of the Wild Magnolias, ‘Bo’Dollis). Another Longhair connection is that Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, long-time associate of ‘Fess, plays congas here.

Recording these albums in the studio rather than on the street afforded the opportunity to add a great rhythm section – includingSnooks Eaglin on guitar and Willie Tee on keyboards – to the vocals and assorted percussion. The results are timeless. Practically the only thing that dates this music is the use of avocoder to distort the vocals on “Smoke My Peace Pipe (Smoke It Righr).” Other than that, it has stood the test of time well, improving with age rather than becoming a period curio.

By John Eyles

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