2009 was a busy year for Alec Ounsworth, the charismatic front man of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. First, he recorded Skin and Bones with a group of friends dubbed Flashy Python.
Two months later, he released Mo Beauty, a stunning solo effort recorded in New Orleans with a local ensemble including George Porter Jr. (bass, The Funky Meters), Stanton Moore (drums, Galactic), and Robert Walter (keyboards, The Grey Boy Allstars).
Produced by veteran Steve Berlin (Los Lobos, Replacements), Mo Beauty is an excellent showcase of Ounsworth’s compelling literary writing skills. Berlin was integral in putting together the studio musicians, a group that brings powerful rhythms, funky tones and imaginative arrangements that making this project unlike Ounsworth’s previous efforts.
“I met Steve in New Orleans,” Ounsworth recalls, “and he suggested making a record. For me, the idea that I got to go to New Orleans and play with people at that caliber was an opportunity I couldn’t really pass up. When Steve and I were talking about doing a record down in New Orleans, we talked about a small jazz combo I’d seen once, and I didn’t know at the time that Stanton was the drummer. It was very much a serendipitous occasion. There are a lot of good drummers down in New Orleans, but Stanton has a tendency to stand out.
“Steve said he could try to get Stanton, and then the next thing I heard Stanton had asked George. Stanton works with Robert Walter, so he was on board early. Matt Sutton is an old friend of mine who plays baritone guitar and pedal steel, so I guess you could say I brought a ringer in myself. George and Stanton laid down rhythm tracks in just three days. It took about ten days for Robert and Matt, along with a bunch of guests that we had come in here, and they helped round it out.”
Despite the locale of the recording, Ounsworth points out that Mo Beauty is “not a ‘New Orleans record.” The album’s title, however, was inspired by a sign Ounsworth saw at a beauty salon in the Treme section of New Orleans. He was struck by the simplicity of the sign, and thought the words made sense to in context with the material.
“I had most of them songs written before (heading to New Orleans),” Ounsworth says. “But I didn’t really know precisely how I wanted to approach them. Then, when I met these guys, everything just sort of fell in place.”
While Ounsworth entertained the idea of touring with his Mo Beauty band mates, conflicting schedules made that impossible. Instead Ounsworth reunited his Flashy Python brethren, and is preparing a tour to feature material from his entire career.
“I’m focusing on getting the material together for live shows planned for February,” he reports. “I have been practicing these songs with the Flashy Python guys in Philadelphia. The tour is going to be a variation on the theme of material from the new record, while also combining all of the stuff that I’ve done so far, including Flashy Pythons and Clap Your Hands.”
Since forming Clap Your Hands Say Yeah in 2004, Alec Ounsworth has gained a reputation as a passionate performer, with an eccentric, David Byrne-like whimsical way with words. Taking to the road as a solo artist for the first road for the first time, performing material from his entire catchy catalogue, is sure to provide both performer and artist an exhilarating treat.