Why hasn’t Nick Waterhouse played New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Fesitval yet? His combination of the Stax and Motown sounds, overlaid with cool jazz, tight guitar and Raelettes-style backup singers, would seem made for the Fair Grounds crowd. But Waterhouse could rip through an entire album like 2012’s “Time’s All Gone” or 2014’s “Holly” in the time it takes Carlos Santana or Widespread Panic to tune up. His songs are short and precise, like he’s got somewhere to be.
Maybe the Jazz Fest snub makes sense. Much of Waterhouse’s music probably is best enjoyed in a dark club with a cocktail in hand and room to dance, sit or brood, depending on your mood. He’ll be at One Eyed Jacks Tuesday, and twins Jared and Jonathan Mattson’s psychedelic jazz outfit The Mattson 2 opens.
Waterhouse followed his 2016 “Never Twice” (featuring “Katchi,” a doo-wop rave up with Leon Bridges) with a new album titled simply “Nick Waterhouse.” Its first single, “Wreck the Rod,” is a solid, catchy throwback, and the video hilariously casts Waterhouse as a washed-up ’70s singer in a velour suit coming to grief on a cheesy talk show hosted by Danny Trejo. “‘Wreck the Rod' finds Danny as an-alternate reality Mike Douglas and some version of myself living out the ravages and indignities of the very lyrics I’m singing," Waterhouse says. He may post online a 10-minute version of the interview portions of the talk show, Waterhouse told Gambit.
“Wreck the Rod” was inspired by a conversation he had with Irma Thomas in 2017. Waterhouse spent years working at San Francisco record store Rooky Ricardo’s. A friend had told him about Thomas’ years in the Bay Area when she worked in a department store while trying to get her music career on track, Waterhouse says. “This is a song about singers like (Irma) being used up by an industry (in addition to a larger swath of society),” he says, “about riding it out, about rising above, about an unsettling pleasure/pain dynamic.”
It’s surprising Waterhouse doesn’t have a higher profile in New Orleans; he’s collaborated with Jon Batiste, whom he met at a festival when they were both 24. For a short tour based around performances at Austin, Texas’ SXSW, Batiste played keyboards in Waterhouse’s band. Waterhouse also assisted on production of some songs for a forthcoming album from Batiste, he says. Waterhouse also has produced songs for the Los Angeles band The Allah-Las.
Adding to the new album’s retro stylings is “I Feel an Urge Coming On,” written by Joshie Jo Armstead, a former member of Ike and Tina Turner’s Ikettes. Armstead is a veteran songwriter who co-wrote “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” both recorded by Ray Charles, and other songs with Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, aka the R&B and soul duo Ashford & Simpson.
“I was talking to (Armstead) about writing material,” Waterhouse says. “She texted me one night and said you need to do ‘I Feel an Urge Coming On.’ I rearranged it. I turned it minor and added this twangy rhythmic thing.”
The album also has songs co-written by Waterhouse and Doc Polizzi, a former professor of mathematics at LSU. Waterhouse says the album reflects many of his influences, from more classic Charles sounds to the contemporary music scene from his homes in California as he’s moved back and forth from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
He performed in New Orleans with a four-piece band in 2017, but for this tour he’s got a full band with a horn section.
Nick Waterhouse with The Mattson 2
9 p.m. Tuesday, May 21
One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St., (504) 569-8361