In the music spotlight: New Orleans Suspects

SHARE In the music spotlight: New Orleans Suspects

BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES

The diverse histories of its members are impressive, but the infectious sound of the New Orleans Suspects exceeds the sum of its notable parts. “It’s an odd combination of backgrounds,” says veteran James Brown saxophonist Jeff Watkins. “But we’ve honed it into our own voice.”

“We reflect every place we’ve been,” says bassist Reggie Scanlan, whose résumé includes work with Crescent City staples like Professor Longhair, James Booker and Earl King. “Jeff had twelve years with James. You can’t leave that behind.”

NEW ORLEANS SUSPECTS When: 8 p.m. Feb. 5 Where: SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston Tickets: $17–$32 Info: (847) 492-8860; evanstonspace.com

As its name might imply, the band sometimes nods to hometown heroes, including Dr. John and the Meters. Equally important are soul giants like Wilson Pickett, James Brown, and Sam & Dave, as well as roots-based rockers Little Feat and The Band.

Scanlan also anchored the Radiators lineup for 33 years. The dissolution of New Orleans’ longest-running rock band meant that he could pursue the Suspects as a full-time endeavor. Scanlan has relished reshaping his repertoire. “With the Rads, I played ‘Like Dreamers Do‘ for 30 years.

Everything we’re doing now is like new material for me. I’m loving it all. It’s like being at a banquet with all this great food, and you just shovel it in.”

Keyboardist CR Gruver has earned respect as sideman for original Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. That experience informs the percolating “Pocketful of Grits” from the band’s latest studio album, “Ouroboros.” Gruver composed the instrumental as a cross between New Orleans’ brass band sounds and the fiery Latin rock of early Carlos Santana. Drummer “Mean” Willie Green dazzles and hypnotizes throughout the song, never letting the beat drop. “Willie eats that stuff for breakfast,” says Scanlan.

Story-songs like “Magdalena” have a timeless feeling, built from observations by guitarist and Dirty Dozen Brass Band veteran Jake Eckert. Consider it New Orleans’ answer to “Eleanor Rigby.” “There’s a little church near Jake’s house,” says Watkins. “He used to see this old lady going to church every day. Then one day, he realized she wasn’t coming by anymore.”

Alongside original music, the Suspects often pepper sets with New Orleans standards like “Tipitina.” “I’m proud to represent our city that way,” says Watkins.

“Carnivale” recalls drummer Green’s soulful and intricate work with the Neville Brothers, while raising the spirit of New Orleans’ most famous party. If you can’t travel south for Mardi Gras, the Suspects’ live show at SPACE should set the mood nicely.

Jeff Elbel is a local free-lance writer. Email: elbel.jeff@gmail.com

The Latest
Hours after the boys, 12 and 14, were shot, a SWAT team responded to a building nearby in the 7800 block of South Burnham Avenue around 5:20 p.m. Monday, where the 16-year-old and an adult were taken into custody without incident, officials said.
Quinn Keen is among 46 known Illinois residents who have faced federal charges stemming from the attack on the Capitol. The events of that day are also at the center of a court battle over whether former President Donald Trump is disqualified from the presidency.
Rep. Mike Bost called Trump’s endorsement “a tremendous honor” and vowed to help Trump win back the White House. And while Darren Bailey’s campaign downplayed the endorsement as an example of the former president’s support of GOP incumbents, the campaign reiterated Bailey “proudly stands” with the former president.
Left fielder Benintendi played through discomfort for much of 2023.
The footage came from cameras worn by French and her partners, Carols Yanez and Joshua Blas, during a Aug. 7 2021 traffic stop.