Thanks largely to the worldwide crossover success of Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, the trombone is somewhat back in vogue. Truth is, it was never not in vogue in New Orleans, a city that celebrates how out-of-step it can be with the rest of America.
Take Bonerama, a band fronted by four trombonists, which is celebrating its 20th year with one of the most bizarre yet beautiful projects of 2019. “Bonerama Plays Zeppelin” (Basin Street Records) tells you what you need to know. I’m here to report that you NEED to hear this.
Formed by Harry Connick Jr. alumni Mark Mullins and Craig Klein, Bonerama has incorporated classic rock songs into its raucous and joyous concerts from the start.
For this year’s Jazz and Heritage and Festival, they made a studio recording of the music of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham. Sounds silly, like a novelty, right? Well, it kind of is but is also so much more. Mullins and sousaphonist Matt Perrine put some serious thought and TLC into the arrangements of songs like “Heartbreaker,” “Good Times Bad Times,” “In My Time of Dying” and “Black Dog.” Bonerama have a very capable guitarist in Bert Cotton, who does some very heavy lifting throughout the disc, but the fun really begins when the trombone front-line handles the guitar parts or even some of Plants’ unmistakable shrieks. On the disc, former drummer A.J. Hall, manages the vocals with both reverence and an invisible smile.
Last weekend, Bonerama brought a slightly revamped line-up to Connecticut for a “… Plays Zeppelin” show. The main difference, Mullins’ 19-year-old son Michael taking on both a part in the trombone line and singing most of the songs like a child of 1980s hard rock. The mannerisms and inflections were uncanny. Oh yeah, he had to fly home the following day to begin his college life as a freshman at Loyola in NOLA. You can’t make this stuff up.
You can file this one under “only in New Orleans.” I would also put it among the top five fun shows I’ve seen in the past 15 years. The band started the show playing some of its own music before sliding into the Led Zep stuff (including “The Crunge” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do”). Mullins announced that “Bonerama Plays Zeppelin” was the best selling CD at the 2019 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The concert also acknowledged the loss of two Crescent City immortals in Dr. John and Art Neville. The Meters’ medley was particularly moving and fun.
Don’t know how Zeppelin die-hards will treat this. But with the right kind of ears, you will experience one of the most jovial, loving, creative and celebratory tributes in some time.
Trombones playing “Misty Mountain Hop”? Yes, please. Let’s hope some of these songs remain in the Bonerama repertoire for years to come.