Carlo Ditta is Hungry for Love: Grammy-nominated New Orleans producer and singer-songwriter releases his second album
Hungry for Love, Carlo Ditta’s second solo album, finds the New Orleans singer-songwriter and Grammy-nominated producer steeped in south Louisiana’s steamy, soulful rhythm-and-blues heritage — his natural habitat. Ditta expresses himself and his musical heritage through five originals, colorful remakes of regional classics and imaginative interpretations of traditional songs.
A labor of love, Hungry for Love pairs Ditta with the handpicked music veterans he works with in the studio and on stage. Selections include the album’s raw and swampy title song; Ditta’s darkly intriguing take on John Fred and the Playboys’ 1960s cult classic “Agnes English”; and a reimagining of “The House of the Rising Sun” filtered through Ditta’s and his stellar session musicians’ New Orleans-stoked perspective.
“This is a hungry record,” the producer-turned artist says. “A hungry, worn-out record, relationships, love, longing for love, wildness in the streets. It’s a crazy little record.”
Ditta and his studio musicians form the natural connection between the ten Hungry for Love tracks and classic south Louisiana recordings from the 1960s. The album features some of the musicians who helped create the original ’60s recordings.
Work on Hungry for Love began following the release of Ditta’s longtime-coming album debut, 2014’s What I’m Talkin’ About. Offbeat magazine named that album one of the year’s Top 50 Louisiana albums, saying: “It’s a revelation, a strangely wonderful set that, at its best, melds John Prine’s wit to Tom Waits’ mouth and rocks the swamp while doing so.” Writing in Bentley’s Bandstand, music industry veteran Bill Bentley noted Ditta’s “trick bag full of treats” and “hot sauce that keeps everything spicy.” And Big City Blues magazine named the album “a work of sometimes ferociously powerful art.”
What I’m Talkin’ About and Hungry for Love both include saxophonist and keyboardist Andrew Bernard (John Fred and the Playboys); bassist Earl Stanley (Dr. John, Roger and the Gypsies, Earl Stanley and the Stereos); keyboardist Rick Stelma (Dr. Spec’s Optical Illusion); bassist David Hyde; and drummer Chewy “Thunderfoot” Black.
More local legends join Ditta for Hungry for Love — saxophonists Jerry Jumonville (Captain Beefheart, Bette Miller, Rod Stewart); saxophonist Johnny Pennino (Skip Easterling, Freddy Fender); and drummer Freddy Staehle (Dr. John, Al Hirt, Eric Clapton).
With title song “Hungry for Love,” Ditta and his studio pardners conjure a hypnotic hoodoo vibe worthy of north Louisiana singer-songwriter Tony Joe White and the doomy swamp-blues productions J.D. Miller helmed in southwest Louisiana. Accompanied by Staehle’s tribal drumming, Stelma at the Wurlitzer electric piano, Jumonville’s mournful sax and Dave Easley’s pedal steel guitar, Ditta sings his frustration, hope and desire.
The album’s remake of Eddie Powers’ local and national hit, “Gypsy Woman Told Me,” includes bass from Stanley, a co-writer of the song who also played bassist for the original 1964 release. Stanley returns, playing bass and rattling maracas, for “Pass the Hatchet,” the proto-funk local hit from 1966 he co-wrote and recorded with Roger and the Gypsies.
In “La MuChaCha Cha,” another original song, Ditta shouts lyrics about an unfaithful lover over seductively warm and grooving Latin rhythm. Spanish guitar, congas reinforce the tropical mood.
“Agnes English” is among the best-know songs by John Fred and the Playboys, the Baton Rouge band that scored a No. 1 hit in 1968 with “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).” Ditta’s spooky remake features Bernard, an original member of the Playboys band and co-writer of “Agnes English” and “Judy in Disguise,” playing tenor sax and Wurlitzer keyboards, and Bernard’s niece, Deanna, singing backup. Bernard created a masterful horn arrangement for Ditta’s reinvention of another classic from south Louisiana.
Ditta goes full-tilt soul for “Working So Hard for My Baby’s Love,” an original composition featuring Jumonville’s sax playing and arranging. In the contemplative, reggae-flavored “Life in Heaven,” Ditta addresses big questions about life and love, intoning the lyrics in the low, breathy way Leonard Cohen sang late in his career.
Ditta and his musicians make the most of the album’s other remakes, retelling the tragic story in the country classic “I’m Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail” and funkifying the often-recorded folk song “The House of Rising Sun” to the point they own it. “We rhythmized ‘House of the Rising Sun,” Ditta said. “We made it New Orleans.”
Ditta’s longtime coming solo albums follow his more than 30 years of producing recordings for other artists, most of them released by his Orleans Records label. The label’s catalog includes albums by Professor Longhair, Danny Barker, Mighty Sam McClain, Roland Stone, Little Freddie King, Guitar Slim Jr., Coco Robicheaux, Rockie Charles and the Original Pinstripe Brass Band. Orleans also released an all-star in-concert album featuring Aaron Neville and Allen Toussaint, Midnight at St. Jude’s. Ditta’s other production work also includes Willy DeVille’s Victory Mixture, a gold record in France.
Orleans Records’ recent releases include the Little Freddie King compilation, Fried Rice & Chicken, and the re-release of Guitar Slim Jr.’s Grammy-nominated 1988 album, The Story of My Life.
Ditta’s second solo album, Hungry for Love, moves the usually behind-the-scenes producer and record company visionary to his lesser-known role as recording artist. In league with his simpatico studio partners, the late-blooming front man has conjured a genuine, haunting and deeply personal album, drawn from a lifetime of musical and personal experience and decades of being hungry for love.
author of “Huey Smith and the Rockin Pneumonia Blues”