Alex McMurray is involved in so many projects (many of which have been featured here), it would be easy to assume that he's the only guitarist in New Orleans. That would certainly be true if you were an attendee of Chazfest, one of the coolest things I've had the privilege to witness. From what I can tell, it's an outdoor concert of all of McMurray's bands (plus a few others) featuring New Orleans celebrity Washboard Chaz taking solos, all in McMurray's backyard. Unfortunately, due to the rising rents in the Ninth Ward (let's not kid ourselves and call it what it ain't, Sotheby's) this was the last year of the festival. For now, anyway.
While I heard a lot of amazing music there, the band that touched the darkness in my heart the most was the alt-country act Happy Talk Band. Lead singer and songwriter Luke Spurr Allen commands the stage with a growl and purpose of a maniac. Songs like "Mugger's Waltz" display an acid wit -- it's easily one of my favorite songs that I've heard this year.
Allen isn't afraid to delve deeper into the gothic -- "Answer Me" feels like a bad trip. Hearing these songs live help juxtapose the doom-and-gloom outlook with the big old party it's meant to kick up -- it's almost as if everyone in the audience is somehow in on a fatalistic secret: that life is Hell but at least we can have fun for a few minutes. But Happy Talk Band is by no means Murder By Death-esque; they just cut a little deeper than, say, Two Cow Garage might. But make no mistake -- Happy Talk Band stands up to the best of them, churning out their pronouncements like this is the last party they'll ever get to play at. (But it probably wasn't; I believe they're in the studio recording their fourth album.)
Happy Talk Band -- Official, Facebook, Purchase older albums from Louisiana Music Factory (I think I snagged the last copy of Starve a Fever), CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon