Songwriter and keyboardist Lucas Spinosa assembled an impressive cast of south Louisiana all-stars for “Friends and Legends of Louisiana.” Spinosa — who was the leader of the Baton Rouge-area band Southern Star in the 1990s — produced the album, did most of the songwriting and played keyboards for this one-of-a kind project.
Every “Friends and Legends of Louisiana” song stars a different, well-known singer from Louisiana. The project also contains a variety of musical flavors, encompassing swamp pop, blues, rock ’n’ roll, swing, gospel and even smooth jazz.
The guest vocalist list includes bluesman Kenny Neal, zydecajun artist Wayne Toups, blues-rocker Chris LeBlanc and swamp pop singers Don Rich, Gregg Martinez and Ryan Foret. It surely is a soulful, smoky collection of Louisiana voices.
Spinosa does a fine job of matching singers to the songs he and Billy E. Henderson have written. Rich, the popular swamp-pop artist from Pierre Part, sings “Want It to Be,” a ballad that sounds custom-made for him. Horns — that requisite element for so much south Louisiana music — and keyboard triplets complement Rich’s characteristically from-the-heart vocals.
Spinosa casts Baton Rouge blues artist Neal in the churning, bluesy-country song, “Southern Side of Life.” Neal blows swamp-blues harmonica for the track and poignantly sings in his unmistakably deep and grainy voice.
“Belly of the Beast,” featuring Toups’ vocals, Lafayette slide guitar master Sonny Landreth, horns and B-3 Hammond organ, takes a rousing gospel-meets-rhythm-and-blues hybrid direction. While "Belly of the Beast" is a fine performance and production, it leans too heavily on some famous songs, namely Crosby, Stills, & Nash’s “Love the One You’re With,” John Boutté’s “Treme Song” and, a standard from southwest Louisiana, Little Bob’s “I Got Loaded.”
There’s more musical variety in “Red Tail Lights on a Blues Highway.” Spinosa once again matches the right singer to the right song, placing Baton Rouge’s LeBlanc in the spotlight for a blues-rocking tale about a haunted highway. And blue-eyed soul singer Parker James takes the mic for “While You’re Still Mine,” a love song in a smooth-jazz vein. But lasting nearly five minutes, the song runs long. Some of the album’s other four-minute-plus selections could also use trimming.
Despite some long tracks and the mentioned instance of derivativeness, “Friends and Legends of Louisiana” is an ambitious opus worthy of praise and popularity. It’s available from digital music distribution outlets and also in physical CD format from the L&M Star Productions website at lmstarproductions.com.