In New Orleans, there’s no specific formula behind crowd-pleasing music. The city’s open-minded fans rarely limit themselves to specific types of music. They don’t bother with stylistic boundaries. However, they do expect spirit, a full-bodied sound, and a certain level of exotic shenanigans from their favorite performers.
The Dirty Bourbon River Show are an up-and-coming New Orleans act that aims to please its audience with a raucous blend of musical styles. It’s tough to peg the gypsy-esque quintet, but it’s easy to hear the excitement and soul in their music.
“Coming from New Orleans, that crazy mix of music is something you can’t help but have,” says Charles “Big Charlie” Skinner, one of the band’s two lead singers. “You get exposed to so many different things. The New Orleans scene trains and readies things for everyone else, whether it’s Indian music or Indonesian gamelan music or whatever. Everything is down here. We all search for the craziness and the best shows we could find. It helps you grow as a person and as a musician.”
Skinner grew up in the small town of Braselton in northeast Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. He came to New Orleans in 2008 to attend Loyola University and eventually hooked up with his bandmates there.
In the current lineup, Skinner and Noah Adams share lead vocal duties. Skinner also plays brass and woodwinds while Adams sticks with piano and guitar and occasionally switches to trumpet and accordion. Matt Thomas (saxophone, clarinet), Jimmy Williams (bass, sousaphone), and Dane “Bootsy” Schindler (drum kit) complete the roster.
All five bandmates live together in an old house in the 8th Ward on Marigny Street. Skinner calls the neighborhood “the real downtown” of New Orleans.
“The band name came from spending about three years drinking and having a damn good time in New Orleans,” Skinner says.
One might wonder whether the group’s moniker refers to the dirtiness of the Mississippi River, the tones and vibes of their music, or the barley-based booze itself. Skinner says it’s a little bit of all them. “That reflects New Orleans,” he says. “It can be the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen, but it can also be the dirtiest place you’ve ever seen.”
The Dirty Bourbon River Show has consistently released their music independently from labels over the last three years. “We’re pretty much 100 percent DIY,” Skinner says. “We haven’t quite made the jump to vinyl yet, mainly because of the cost. I’d like to eventually work ourselves to an all-analog recording and vinyl situation.”
The band’s latest studio album, Old-Timey Afropop Jibberish Junction, is available on disc and online. They’re already working hard on a forthcoming collection, Volume 3.
“Our style hasn’t changed so much, but our skill level has,” Skinner says. “We’ve gotten better. We’ve become tighter and come together as a band more. I think you can hear that in the new recordings.”
There are plenty of weird rhythms and odd sounds on Old-Timey Afropop Jibberish Junction. They take sudden detours from song-to-song — from ragtime and blues to reggae and stoner-rock.
The demented “King of the World” grooves with a typically syncopated New Orleans snare drum shuffle, but the singing is truly bizarre — a four-part scat/round jumble that sounds like Bobby McFerrin deconstructing Lee “Scratch” Perry’s trippiest songs. More straightforward, the piano-driven “Ballad of Mary Fairweather” hustles with a rock beat and rolls with rich two-part harmonies from Skinner and Adams. The frantic piano and sax breaks resemble the jumpy R&B hits by piano pounders Huey “Piano” Smith, Professor Longhair, and Fats Domino. The upbeat acoustic ditty “Goodbye My Brother” could work well on an Avett Brothers collection. The bass guitar leads a cheerfully sloppy soul-band rendition of Robert Johnson’s “The Crossroads.”
For Skipper, the best approach to writing original music and recording unique renditions is to seek the unfamiliar, learn as much as possible from what he finds, and apply it to what his band does best.
“I think you have to pay homage to what’s going on around you, as opposed to focusing strictly on what you’re doing,” he says. “You have to step back and pay homage to the forefathers of the music, to the musicians who are better than you, and to the musicians from different cultures. It gives you an unlimited supply of music to pull from.”