Hugh Coltman - Who's Happy?

Hugh Coltman - Who´s happy?    

Veröffentlichung: 02. März 2018

CD-OKeh /Sony Music     Nr.: 19075813142 (CD)

16.05.2018 Berlin, Quasimodo



After his dazzling tribute to Nat King Cole, the singer went to New Orleans to record new compositions with his consorts: a brass band from New Orleans and Freddy Koella, guitarist and co-producer of the album.

With dancing drums like a legendary New Orleans funeral band, brass full of soul, guitars that fuse every style of blues and folk, Hugh Coltman has built himself a sublime backdrop for these eleven songs over which his warm journeyman's voice expresses his deep understanding of human emotions and sentiments, an indulgent listen for evening lovers, loners at dawn or the melancholic listener at midday... Who’s Happy?, his new album asks. Everyone and no-one, he seems to reply...

Hugh Coltman has always been true to himself without ever doing what you might expect. Born in Britain but residing in France, the former leader of blues-rock group The Hoax morphed into a folk-rock songwriter before exploring the finest in jazz heritage in his forties. It was a new chapter in the adventures of an artist who is keen to break boundaries, formats and conventions.

It all started in 2012, when he appeared as a last minute replacement for singer Krystle Warren at a concert by pianist Éric Legnini. Hugh Coltman discovered “the nonchalance of jazz musicians, who are more rock and roll than many rock musicians, who won't play a song on Thursday the same way they played it on Tuesday, who know their stuff so well they can do whatever they want”.

That replacement was the start of an extended journey paying tribute to Nat King Cole, with one album and a hundred and twenty concerts. Hugh Coltman was ready to "be lambasted by the press, as in, ‘who does he think he is, making a jazz record?’" In reality, Shadows, Songs of Nat King Cole was a huge success, winning him vocalist of the year at the Victoires du Jazz awards in 2017. It would be logical for him to come back with another album of covers, especially as he's recently reformed his first group The Hoax to record Recession Blues, A Tribute to BB King.

"When I started writing I had no idea where I was going other than saying to myself that I wasn't going to become a tribute artist, although there were some intriguing possibilities." The turning point came with the series Treme and its many musical treasures. It brought back happy childhood memories including Kid Ory, Sidney Bechet, Fats Domino, Dr John and the Meters without ever realising that they too had their roots in the New Orleans of the "second line" and flamboyant brass bands. He listened passionately to the great masters of the past, immersed himself in CW Stoneking, the Australian blues revivalist, and Charles Sheffields, an iconic Louisiana r’n’b singer from the 60s. He quickly developed a liberating conviction: “New Orleans music is not all about virtuosity; the primal call comes first”.

And a key existential notion: "I'm forty-five years old, isn't it time I stopped caring what other people think?" So he went where he wanted to go, to New Orleans, to breathe in the spirit of Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos, the piano of Rubén González in Buena Vista Social Club or the atmospheres of Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones – strong emotions, honest playing, smoky wisdom and a harsh reality transformed into joyful music…

He wanted a lot of musicians, he was looking for that sound he'd already heard in Kid Ory, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf – that instinct, the processional brass, the feeling the listener gets from being in the room with the musicians... Behind the drums, he wanted Raphaël Chassin, his faithful collaborator who has worked with Miossec, Vanessa Paradis, Bernard Lavilliers, Charlotte Savary and Albin de la Simone and more. And guitarist Freddy Koella, the most prestigious and modest Frenchman in America (Bob Dylan, Willy DeVille, Odetta, kd lang, Carla Bruni, Francis Cabrel, Lhasa De Sela, etc.).

Freddy was co-producing the album. He told Hugh: "Don't record any demos." The result: “In two weeks, I had the foundations for all the songs”, recorded on his phone in his kitchen in Montreuil. His first week in Louisiana was spent meeting the musicians and catching up on stories from Trump's America, which would lead to the song Sugar Coated Pill. Then came six days in the studio with some of New Orleans' biggest names to record ten new songs and a cover of It’s Your Voodoo Working by Charles Sheffield.

From one song to the next, the album moves from autobiography to humanity, from despair to blind hope, from European blues to universal light... Civvy Street opens the album sounding like a venerable standard, All Sleeps Away speaks of Hugh Coltman's father's struggle with Alzheimer's, Little Big Man is written for his son, Hand Me Down looks at questions of transmission (with French vocals from Canadian-Haitian singer Mélissa Laveaux)… It's a musical and existential journey somewhere between a confessional and the big stage, between the exploration of an extraordinary heritage and the boundless inspiration of an artist at the height of his creative powers.