Book Review: Read My Lips

Coffeetable book on New Orleans? Dense ethnography and oral history of Crescent City brass bands!

Read My Lips

Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way

by Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and Rachel Breunlin
UNO Press, 240 pp., $35

Like blues poet Willie Dixon famously proclaimed, you can't judge a book by its cover. Based on its oversize frame, you'd be excused for thinking Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way was a photo-heavy coffeetable topper for casual browsing. While it collects arresting black-and-white images, it's instead a dense ethnography and oral history of Crescent City brass bands past, present, and future. A collaboration between musician Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and Rachel Breunlin, anthropology professor and co-director of the Neighborhood Story Project, the book roughly divides into two parts. The first half uses interviews with musicians and community leaders to tell a broader story about life in the Big Easy, from civil rights activism and the desegregation of public schools to Mardi Gras Indian tribes and jazz funerals. Born of a desire to keep the traditional form and rich history of brass bands alive, that history culminates with the formation of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid & Pleasure club in the mid-Nineties. Members, who hail from brass bands including Dirty Dozen, Young Fellaz, Stooges, Rebirth, and more, diligently pass these traditions on to future generations, so the latter half of Talk dedicates itself to conversations between young musicians and their mentors. As Woody Penouilh of the Storyville Stompers notes, "At its best, musicians in New Orleans won't look at each other as competition. They look at it as just friends joining together to make a good sound. Everybody shares their knowledge."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
<i>Me & Mr. Cigar</i>
Me & Mr. Cigar
Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes debuts a deeply weird and wonderful young adult novel.

Alyssa Quiles, Feb. 21, 2020

Revenge of the She-Punks
Revenge of the She-Punks

Rachel Rascoe, Dec. 6, 2019

More by Thomas Fawcett
Dispatches From a New Decade of SXSW
Dispatches From a New Decade of SXSW
Our favorite musical moments from the fest

March 25, 2022

The Best Music We Saw at SXSW on Friday
The Best Music We Saw at SXSW on Friday
Seventies funk GOATs, queer nu metal, and so much more

March 19, 2022


Brass bands, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Stooges Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle