Getting Harry

We love the Connick

The music opens with flowery acoustic guitars double-tracked for a 12-string feel and shimmying with opulent drama, reminiscent of records made in the '60s by acid-hungry British rockers prowling green country lanes in faux-druidic rituals. After a drawn-out introduction, drum hits recorded backward make way for a chorus of singers that blurts, "My hands are red!" with absurd, emphatic dissonance. Then, a pitch-shifted, vaguely Satanic voice intones, "The time is come." This music also features a talking turtle as its central character — a turtle, no less, that jives about "doom shinning its bitter brink" (that's right, as in "to shin," whatever that means) and "goblins casting stench to pave the way."

Boy, if only the Judas Priest subliminal-message people could get their hands on this. The thing is, any concerned parties would do a double-take when they realized that this music, the first track on an album called Star Turtle, is the intro to a Harry Connick Jr. record.

Released in 1996, Star Turtle represents fusion in its most dignified, unpretentious form, even considering the liberal use of distorted guitars throughout. It also clearly marks Connick's most adventurous moment — up until now, at least.

Connick introduced audiences to his funky side on his 1994 album She, which essentially generated a separate fan base from swing loyalists. Although Connick's beyond-reproach superstar status remains intact, the innovation of his stripped-down funk has never been duly recognized. That may change now that he's released Oh My NOLA, where he finally brings his two sides together.

On NOLA, Connick takes the Katrina disaster head-on, but in his own distinctively understated way. "All These People," for example, tells of two dead bodies at the Convention Center, but the album, as a whole, sidesteps blame and presents Connick's sense of loss for his hometown as a musical celebration. Songs like "Do That Thing," "We Make a Lot of Love," and the title track delve into the city's fabled spirit. Connick also varies the configuration of players and band formats more than he ever has before, creating a new level of texture. Connick has always been able to pepper his tunes with subtly contrasting emotional undertones, but to see him employing the same weaving skills stylistically is to catch him at the most exciting time in his career — at least so far.

 
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