Glen David Andrews‘ Redemption busts out the gate like an album with its ass on fire, kicking off the opening track, “NY to Nola,” with a burst of guitar squall that quickly yields to a stuttering rhythm and howling harmonica, followed by Andrews’ growling vocals and a heaping helping of splashy brass. By the time the song’s finished, you’re either hooked or dead inside; from the opening notes, this is clearly the sound of a man making up for lost time.
That’s true in more ways than one — at times, Andrews’ New Orleans celebrity status has seemed to stem as much from his arrest record as his music — but whatever it took to get him to this point, Redemption is the album of Andrews’ career, the culmination of countless hours spent on stages and a hard-fought first-hand knowledge of just how sweet deliverance can be.
Redemption is a dangerously overused concept in New Orleans music, a word that’s tossed around as casually and misguidedly as “gumbo” or “lagniappe” or “Bourbon Street” or any other tourist-friendly phrase you want to mention. It’s understandable — at its root, this is music derived from the spark struck between joy and sorrow, and the belief that no matter how grim things get, this vale of tears is temporary — but it’s all too often used as a gaudily colored signpost for the kind of cheesy, cheaply assembled records that go with brightly colored cocktails served in giant bowls or plastic Dixie cups. It’s fine for what it is, but there’s no lasting resonance.
True redemption is earned: a celebration of today, anchored by lessons learned through the work it took to get here and sweetened with gratitude for our good fortune. This record is steeped in all that, soaked in tears and night sweats that have been dried but not forgotten. It’s revealed by degrees — first in the thunderclap opening of “NY to Nola,” then with cuts like the funky, rueful “Bad by Myself,” Andrews’ Mahalia Jackson-assisted cover of “Didn’t It Rain,” and the downright lovely “Surrender,” as well as a trio of post-rehab anthems (“Movin’ Up,” “Lower Power,” and “You Don’t Know”), the latter two of which feature appearances from fellow survivor Anders Osborne. The whole journey culminates with a beautiful rendition of the Curtis Mayfield classic “Something to Believe In” that sends the record sailing out on a note of well-deserved rest and release.
The songs and performances here are uniformly solid, but Andrews’ ace in the hole is producer Leo Sacks, a longtime champion of New Orleans music who strikes a satisfying balance between live warmth and radio-friendly polish. That’s a niftier trick to pull off than one might think, and here, it results in a colorful — but never sloppy — set of songs with smartly written arrangements whose performances ride the pocket without sacrificing a fine, pleasing grit. This Redemption has been a long time coming for Andrews; here’s hoping it’s just the first of many such celebrations.