It's 'Carnival Time' for Galactic on the band's new Mardi Gras CD

Keith Spera, | The Times-Picayune By Keith Spera, | The Times-Picayune
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on February 17, 2012 at 7:31 AM, updated February 17, 2012 at 8:23 AM

On its 2010 album “Ya-Ka-May,” Galactic treated contributions from Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint and other local legends as raw ingredients for sonic alchemy. Galactic’s new “Carnivale Electricos,” to be released Fat Tuesday by Anti-Records, is of a piece with “Ya-Ka-May” and its hip-hop-themed predecessor, “From the Corner to the Block.” Grooves are goosed with studio wizardry, vocals are chopped and distorted, beats are looped.

galactic al johnson.JPGAl "Carnival Time" Johnson, foreground, with members of Galactic in the band's Uptown studio. Galactic includes, from left, Rob Mercurio, Rich Vogel, Corey Henry, Ben Ellman, Jeff Raines and Stanton Moore.

After Al Johnson sang on a remake of his all-time Mardi Gras classic “Carnival Time,” however, the band decided to leave his voice alone.

“We really didn’t mess with his vocals,” said Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio, the producer of “Carnivale Electricos.” “They’re as he performed them.”

Instead, they retrofitted the song’s arrangement. “We cut up the tune and used more of a modern beat,” Mercurio said. “We had to make it something unique on our end.”

The percussion-heavy “Carnivale Electricos” takes Mardi Gras music where “Ya-Ka-May” took New Orleans music in general: Back to the future. Carnival sounds from New Orleans to Brazil pass through a contemporary looking glass.

Johnson, who pronounces himself pleased with the reborn “Carnival Time,” is among the guests slated to sit in with Galactic at Tipitina’s for the band’s annual, all-night Lundi Gras show; only VIP tickets remain. The band also performs at Tipitina’s on Saturday, Feb. 18, with guest Big Chief Juan Pardo, who is featured on the opening cut of “Carnivale Electricos.”

For the band’s two previous studio albums, saxophonist and harmonica player Ben Ellman produced, with Mercurio assisting. This time, they reversed roles, as Ellman was busy producing Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews’ “For True” and the Revivalists’ “City of Sound.” All three projects were recorded last fall in Galactic’s Uptown studio/rehearsal space.

Absent from the new album is former Living Colour frontman Corey Glover, who tours with Galactic as a featured vocalist. But he has no connection to Mardi Gras, so wasn’t used on “Carnivale Electricos.”

“It seemed like we would be varying from the concept too much,” Mercurio said. “We wanted all artists we collaborated with to make sense.”

Those collaborators include rapper Mystikal.

“Marching band music is not the only music in parades,” Mercurio said. “New Orleans rap is a big part of Mardi Gras. Hearing a Cash Money or Mystikal tune on the parade route is pretty common.”

Fulfilling a longtime ambition of Ellman’s, Mystikal spent an entire night in Galactic’s studio, writing and recording a rap for “Move Fast.” Mannie Fresh, the beatmaster behind Cash Money’s early hits, added the song’s hook later.

“We were so giddy that night,” Mercurio said. “Mystikal came in about 7 p.m., and we stayed until 6 a.m. The hours blew by. At one point, I was giving him delivery ideas. I remember stopping and being like, ‘A suburban white kid should not be telling Mystikal how to rap.’”

Galactic rehearses funky Carnival Time with Al Johnson: video Watch as New Orleans funk band Galactic rehearses a brassy, syncopated remake of the Mardi Gras classic 'Carnival Time' with Al Johnson, who recorded the original 50 years ago. The Galactic lineup is: Ben Ellman on saxophone, Corey Henry on trombone, Robert Mercurio on bass, Stanton Moore on drums, Jeff Raines on guitar, Richard Vogel on keyboard. Look for Keith Spera's story about the re-recording in the Feb. 17 Lagniappe. Video by Doug MacCash.
Revivalists frontman David Shaw teamed with Shreveport singer-songwriter Maggie Koerner to co-write “Hey Na Na,” the first single from “Carnivale Electricos.” The zydeco-tinged “Voyage Ton Flag” samples a Clifton Chenier recording; Steve Riley also contributes. The instrumental “JuLou,” based on a Brazilian Carnival song, salutes the Krewe of Julu, the brassy walking club that includes several members of Galactic.

The Casa Samba percussion troupe powers a remake of the Sergio Mendes hit “Magalenha.” Cyril and Ivan Neville guest on “Out in the Street.” The instrumental “Attack,” with its free-jazz sax squawks, recalls Galactic’s soundtrack for the PlayStation video game inFAMOUS 2.

The KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band pumps up “Karate,” with assistance from Ellman and trumpeter Shamarr Allen. Mercurio, Ellman, drummer Stanton Moore, keyboardist Rich Vogel and guitarist Jeff Raines graft a seamless groove onto the big band.

“Once we decided on the album’s concept, a marching-band song was high on the list,” Mercurio said. “It was one of the more difficult things we’ve done recording-wise, but it was quite a payoff.”

During Galactic’s 18-year history, recordings have grown increasingly concise and efficient. Mercurio made an effort to feature solos on “Carnivale Electricos.” Still, no song exceeds 3 1/2 minutes.

Onstage, however, arrangements tend to stretch, especially during the all-night Lundi Gras gig. At sunrise, that gig often winds down with the early Galactic track “Quiet Please.” It starts slow, picks up steam, then settles down again. “Ash Wednesday Sundown,” the final cut on “Carnivale Electricos,” follows a similar arc.

The intention, Mercurio said, was to “conjure the vibe that everybody has when you wake up on Ash Wednesday: Slight relief that it’s over and it’s time to move on, back to reality. Some sadness. Some happiness. And a slight hangover.”



What: The band celebrates its new “Carnivale Electricos” CD.

When: Saturday, Feb. 18, and Monday, Feb. 20. Show time is 10 p.m.

Where: Tipitina’s, 501 Napoleon Ave., 504.895.8477.

With: On Saturday, the opening act is MyNameIsJohnMichael, and guests include Big Chief Juan Pardo & the Golden Comanches. On Monday, the opening act is the Soul Rebels, and the guests include Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, David Shaw and Casa Samba.

Tickets: $31 for Saturday. On Monday, general admission is sold out; VIP tickets are $151.