Newly unearthed album by Leo Nocentelli from the early 1970s released by the Light in the Attic label
More than 50 years have passed since Leo Nocentelli of pioneering funk group The Meters recorded Another side, a studio album at the Jazz City Studio by Cosimo Matassa between 1970 and ’72, unreleased and intact for decades and discovered during an exchange meeting in California. The newly unearthed album, now available for presale through archival reissue label Light in the Attic, features a largely acoustic and more contemplative side of the legendary guitarist, who is best known for his sharp funk licks. Backing Nocentelli is a star line-up of New Orleans musical royalty, including Allen Toussaint on piano, James Black on drums and fellow Meters band members George Porter Jr. on bass and Zigaboo Modelist on drums. . Vinyl, CD, cassette and digital formats are expected on November 19.
Along with an announcement on September 29, the first single “Thinking Of The Day” has been released and is now available to stream or download on all digital platforms.
Recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s Jazz City Studio in New Orleans between 1970-72, Another side finds a young Nocentelli channeling his contemporaries into the nascent singer-songwriter movement – think Bill Withers, James Taylor and Toussaint reuniting at Link Wray’s 3-Track Shack. Deeply introspective, the warm and funky folk album features nine original songs by Nocentelli, as well as a moving rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song”, which recently hit the airwaves. Half a century later, these recordings sound as fresh and engaging as the day they were recorded.
Which makes Another side even more extraordinary, however, is the fact that the album – which could easily have become a classic in 70s singer-songwriter canon – remained intact for decades; miraculously surviving the devastating blow of Hurricane Katrina, only to be found 3,000 miles away during a 2018 Southern California swap encounter by record collector Mike Nishita.
The album’s incredible journey is documented in the cover notes of Sam Sweet (New York Times, Los Angeles Times), who spoke with Nocentelli and Nishita about the recording process and rediscovering the tapes. Sweet’s full notes appear in the release’s accompanying booklet, alongside handwritten lyrics by Nocentelli.
While Nocentelli was steeped in the New Orleans R&B scene, he was also deeply inspired by the emerging singer-songwriters of the late ’60s and early’ 70s, and quickly found himself exploring sounds that were miles away from his band’s hard funk riffs. Whenever he stopped working in sessions and performing, Nocentelli spent much of 1971 recording his new reflexive and diaristic songs at the Jazz City studio in Matassa. Supported by longtime Meters partner George Porter Jr. on bass, Nocentelli designed the compositions for his sessions to match the tone of the material. When he needed a pianist, he called Toussaint. For percussion on the slower songs he used drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, but most of the tracks featured James Black, a frequent collaborator of Toussaint and a member of Ellis Marsalis’ jazz group, whom Nocentelli remembers as an “incredible” musician.
The recording, which Nocentelli affectionately calls his “country and western album,” paints the image of a young man aspiring to find a purpose. “I was going through changes that were reflected in the songs I wrote during that time,” he told Sweet. Among them, the mid-tempo “Getting Nowhere”, in which he expresses a feeling of frustration, as he watches others find success around him. Likewise, “Till I Get There” details a man who struggles to persevere in his goals. Meanwhile, in the soaring “Tell Me Why”, the singer contemplates the existence of God.
Other songs center around fictional characters. “Pretty Mittie,” for example, is sung from the perspective of a farmer who longs to give up his arduous life for the city. “You’ve Become a Habit” is about a man who falls in love with a sex worker named Fancy. “Riverfront” is based on stories singer Aaron Neville shared about his days working on the New Orleans waterfront. Nocentelli also chose to perform a cover: Elton John’s revolutionary hit, “Your Song”. The guitarist took the recently released ballad his own, infusing it with a nodding cadence, still tastefully, New Orleans-style “funkdafie”.
By the time the album was finished, The Meters was busier than ever. They had just signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers and were now the official band at Toussaint’s studio, Sea-Saint. There, they not only supported artists on Toussaint’s Sehorn label, but also became the go-to session musicians for every major artist who recorded in New Orleans. Rather than focusing on a solo career, Nocentelli invested his energies in The Meters’ upcoming album. Eventually time passed, as did Nocentelli, and he decided to store his unreleased solo album in Sea-Saint to keep it safe.
In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Sea-Saint was among its victims. While Toussaint (who died in 2015) sold the sacred studio in the mid-1990s, hundreds of his archived recordings remained in the building. The new owner salvaged what he could from the flooded building, shipping it to a storage facility in Southern California. Boxes of cassettes remained there for over a decade before moving to another unit, which was closed a year later. The content was bought at a blind auction and, a few days later, sold at a swap meeting. The fact that record collector Mike Nishita was there was pure kismet.
Nishita, a DJ and brother of “Money Mark” Nishita (of Beastie Boys fame), recognized the Sea-Saint label on the boxes and purchased the 673 master tapes at the swap meet. He inspected the content with his friend Mario Caldato Jr., the longtime sound engineer for the Beastie Boys. In addition to the masters of Irma Thomas, Dr John, Lee Dorsey, and Toussaint, there was a quarter-inch coil with Nocentelli’s name on it. As Caldato and Nishita listened to him, they knew they had something special.
“There was nothing else like it,” Sweet writes. “An acoustic album from the greatest funk guitarist who ever lived. This was the tape Mike played to people to show them how special the collection was. The best album in the vault was something no one knew existed.
Finally, Nishita and Nocentelli connected: “He was so grateful, so sincere,” Nishita recalls. “I kept thinking about how this music should be heard… Especially when you look at all the things that had to fall into place for these bands to survive and be discovered that way.” As Nocentelli put it simply, “Things happen for a reason, man.”
The first pressing of the vinyl edition will feature gold leaf treatment on the cover and back. The set is completed with original designs and layout from multiple Grammy Award-winning designer Masaki Koike. All vinyl configurations were pressed at Record Technology, Inc. In addition to the standard black wax, unique color variations will be available exclusively at LightInTheAttic.net, including the album pressed on clear Coke Bottle Wax , as well as a limited edition deluxe edition set, which will include the album pressed onto gold metallic wax, a limited edition hand-numbered 8 × 10 archival photo by photographer Rick Olivier and signed by Nocentelli, and a new t-shirt featuring a photo of Nocentelli performing with The Meters at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival by photographer Michael P. Smith (courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection). Additional vinyl editions will be available for UK retailers (bright yellow) and at Vinyl Me, Please (clear, black and high fusion gold). All vinyl editions include a 20-page booklet, while the CD includes a 28-page booklet.