Over the last year or two, The Deslondes have emerged from the New Orleans folk community as one of the pre-eminent reverent roots acts in the country. Holy Cross Blues, the group’s debut (released as The Tumbleweeds), was a burst of traditionally minded songwriting alongside reenergized arrangements from the American songbook ranging from Woody Guthrie to Abner Jay to Bobby Charles. On their proper debut as The Deslondes, the NOLA quintet begin to flourish as songwriters in their own right.
The left hand invented rock'n'roll. That’s the hand that plays the bass lines on piano, the hand used by early keys pounders like Jerry Lee Lewis, Moon Mullican, and Fats Domino to put a little bit of boogie in their blues. That left hand gave "Great Balls of Fire" its lusty pep and "Blueberry Hill" its making-time thrill. So, when the Deslondes open their self-titled debut with a walking piano line played way, way down the left side of the keyboard, they’re not just playing a rhythm that sounds distinctive in 2015 but also conveying an entire pop history that spans New Orleans rhythm and blues, early Memphis rock, Louisiana Hayride country, and every pick-up jazz band ever to busk on Royal Street.
Listening to the debut disc by the Deslondes is like hearing the ghosts of country music past come back to life. The Louisiana quintet proudly declares its influences through textual and melodic references. One hears echoes of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie’s early recordings. The production itself is purposely high and thin, like the sound of old 78 RPM records, evoking another time and place.According to their website and one of their songs, these guys have done their share of rambling.
New Orleans is a great place for roots music, but it has never been a major city for country music; when you have the best blues, R&B, and zydeco in the world in your backyard, forming a country band is a bit like going to a steakhouse and ordering pizza, something that may be tasty but isn't the house specialty. But the debut album from the Deslondes suggests these guys are just smart enough to know their adopted hometown has a powerful musical legacy of its own, and if an alt-country band was going to settle in the Crescent City and soak up what it has to offer, this is just what they could and should sound like. The Deslondes has a loose, easygoing feel that's a distant cousin of the lazy but potent beat of classic New Orleans R&B (and the piano work suggests someone has been listening to some Huey "Piano" Smith), while the production gives the performances a vibe that recalls a Sunday afternoon guitar pull on someone's back porch.