The central theme of Glen David Andrews' new record is not difficult to decipher. Titled Redemption, his latest studio effort is a declaration that the talented trombonist and vocalist has risen above his troubled past. A native of the storied Tremé district of New Orleans, Andrews was practically born with a trombone his hand, much like his cousin Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty. But unlike his ascendant cousin, widespread recognition has been slow to come to Glen David Andrews. He hopes Redemption will change that.
Andrews is reluctant to talk about his past struggles with drugs and alcohol, preferring to focus on the present. And why not? His new album is a scintillating blend of R&B, funk, rock and gospel that speaks clearly enough. It boasts some marquee Crescent City talent, including Ivan Neville, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and Galactic's Ben Ellman. But Andrews is quick to point out that the album is not merely a "New Orleans record." You'll find no renditions of "St. James Infirmary" or "When the Saints Go Marching In" here. Instead, Redemption offers a glimpse at a talent finally, and fully, realizing his profound abilities.
"This is a testament to my actual life," says Andrews from his New Orleans home in a recent phone interview.
In advance of Andrews' show at the Rusty Nail in Stowe this Saturday, March 22, here is that interview in its entirety.
SEVEN DAYS: The new record, Redemption, implies you've been redeemed. In what ways?
GLEN DAVID ANDREWS: I've been working hard for the last 20 years to get where I want to go, and I'm excited to see it finally happening.
SD: Having spent so much time plugging away, has your perception of what success means changed?
GDA: No. I've always believed in a hard-work ethic and dedication. Nothing is going to come overnight. You have to work hard at it. And I accepted that at a very young age. I could see how much work it takes to be a professional musician and really break it.
SD: When you were planning the record, were there specific people you knew you wanted to work with?
GDA: People who have been on the same journey as myself. Ivan Neville, Anders Osborne. Jamison Ross, who is a Thelonious Monk Award winner. He's a positive spirit and a wonderful singer. And he might be one of the best drummers in America. But I've never saturated my records with guests just because they have a name.
SD: It's more that you're just friends with these folks, so they play on your record?
GDA: That's mostly what it is. I've always wanted to work with people because we have been on the same journey and have something musically in common.
SD: Were you surprised by anything on the record?
GDA: My biggest surprise was Mahalia Jackson singing on it. I get to listen to my all-time favorite gospel singer, whose posters I have on my wall, I get to listen to her voice on my record with me. That's the highlight of my year.
SD: Your cousin, Trombone Shorty, has been blowing up lately. What is it like for you to see him do so well?
GDA: I grew up playing music with Troy, and so everything he's done we already knew he would do. He's just one of those people with God-gifted sheer talent.
SD: So you knew he was special from the beginning.
GDA: He always had it. There was never a question about it. The guy was playing the trombone at 2 years old and was actually playing it. He could barely hold it but he was playing it.
SD: I spoke with Troy a few years ago and we talked about how New Orleans is a city steeped in musical tradition, but that the real tradition is that the music there is always evolving and changing. What are your thoughts about that?
GDA: Music has to evolve. Music has been evolving from the day it was created, from the drums in Africa to rhythms in Cuba to European instrumentation that all came together in jazz. If you don't like it, that's your choice. But music has to evolve.
SD: What are you listening to these days?
GDA: Right now what's on my turntable is a gospel record from Ike and Tina Turner, What a Friend We Have in Jesus. I don't really listen to CDs or music on the iPod. I like records, because every instrument is actually being played. That's not a drum loop, that's not a computer. That's a human being. That's what I like most about records: They're raw.
SD: Is that an idea you employed on your own record?
GDA: With Redemption, I had the opportunity to work with one of the biggest producers of all time, Leo Sacks. So I humbled myself to the process. I did not want to do a "New Orleans record." That's not what this is. It's a national record. And I achieved that with the sound, the songwriting. I didn't like every suggestion. But I was smart enough to take them in and use them.
SD: Was that tough, to take a backseat in your own music?
GDA: Not at all. That's what it takes to succeed in this business. You have to take your arrogance and pride and put it on the side. The problem in music is that most people don't see the big picture. They want to see it, they want to talk about it. But when it comes to enacting it, they're full of bullshit. I don't have time for that. I've been in this game too long to want to be a big fish in a little pond. I want to be a big fish in the ocean.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Redemption Songs"