Full of quirky narratives, mellow semijagged riffs and an overall bucolic vibe, Olu Dara’s Neighborhoods seems like a slice of life from his Natchez, Miss., roots filtered through New York’s East Village — sort of Taj Mahal meets Blood Ulmer. At times it’s a little African, especially in the lyrics which seem like children’s parable. “Nature” starts off with the lyric “I saw a red ant crying cuz the black ants was walking on his hills,” and “Herbman,” with it’s recitation of various herbs and what they are good for, adds a humorous twist with “No, you can’t smoke this sir/This is for salad.” At times it’s a little bit funky. But mostly, this work is rooted in the blues, a latter-day Lightnin’ Hopkins for a new century. Dara is the father of best-selling rapper Nas and although his career has spanned some 35 years (mostly playing trumpet on the avant-garde free-jazz scene), he never recorded as a leader until he was in his late 50s. His first title, In the World From Natchez To New York in 1997, was an abrupt directional change into earthy blues.
Dr. John and Cassandra Wilson each make guest appearances in Neighborhoods, but in very unobtrusive ways. This recording is Olu Dara up front and natural. As he says in “Tree Blues”: “First time I saw a woman I liked, I was eating wild cherries on top of the cherry tree/If I never looked down from that cherry tree I would still be free.”
Olu Dara plays Thursday, March 29 at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward, Ferndale. Call 248-544-3030.
Larry Gabriel is the Metro Times editor. E-mail email@example.com.