Nine Albums to Get You Ready for Mardi Gras in New Orleans

by swilliams0520

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is pure indulgent sensory overload. Smells of boudin balls and gumbo waft in the wind, strings of beads fly through the air and plenty of booze-fueled dancing set the holiday apart from any other in the country. With the start of Carnival season comes fanciful parades, colorful king cakes, and pretty Big Chiefs strutting with their krewes. It’s no surprise that musicians in the birthplace of Jazz have paid tribute to their home city with iconic Mardi Gras music.

Carnival season is best spent immersing yourself in the music of New Orleans. With its quick rhythm, swampy cadence and brassy melodies, the style perfectly encapsulates the feeling of Mardi Gras. Like those first warm breezes rolling in from the Gulf of Mexico, the warm sound of vinyl is the perfect fit for these classic New Orleans’ albums. Get your feet dancing and funk up your Fat Tuesday with these picks.

Professor Longhair - New Orleans Piano Music

Professor LonghairNew Orleans Piano Music

Professor Longhair was a New Orleans’ icon, with an eclectic calypso-rumba style and personality to match. This album contains some of his best known works at a time when he was in his prime. Two songs stand out from the rest for their deep connections to Mardi Gras – “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” and “Tipitina”. The whistle in “Mardi Gras in New Orleans” is positively Pavlovian to those that love the holiday. It’s tradition to play these Mardi Gras morning and are the perfect rhythm to get your feet dancing on Fat Tuesday! For a more Mardi Gras-centric compilation of his work, give “Mardi Gras in New Orleans 1949-1957” a listen. With his full band, The Shuffling Hungarians, the album is an absolute blast!

The Meters - Fire On The Bayou

The MetersFire On The Bayou

Heavily inspired by Professor Longhair and considered by many to be the founding fathers of Funk, The Meters is one of the most famous New Orleans’ bands. This album is one of their best, released while they were opening for the Rolling Stones on tour, and has a healthy dose of Mardi Gras songs scattered throughout. They say every child in New Orleans learns “They All Ask’d For You” while growing up and this original cut is steeped in the soul of many in the Crescent City. The album closes out with the famed “Mardi Gras Mambo” – the unofficial anthem of Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Rebirth Brass Band - Feel Like Funkin' It Up

Rebirth Brass BandFeel Like Funkin’ It Up

Originally started in Joseph S. Clark High School in the Treme neighborhood by famed trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and his fellow classmates, the Rebirth Brass Band is a standard bearer of sassy, brassy NOLA sound. With the shameless “Do Watcha Wanna”, a speedy rendition of “Big Chief”, and the classic “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” all on the first side of this brilliant LP, it’s a must listen during Mardi Gras season.

Dr. John - Dr. John's Gumbo

Dr. JohnDr John’s Gumbo

Dr. John is the heart and soul of a city that eats, sleeps, and breathes unique music. Churning out music under his own moniker since the bayou-funk gem “Gris Gris” in 1968 and as a session-musician long before that, Dr. John has left an enduring impact on the culture and style of New Orleans music. Though all of his albums have that creole cadence and New Orleans rhythm, perhaps no other album speaks to the true soul of Mardi Gras better than “Dr. John’s Gumbo”. A collection of covers of songs from his native Louisiana, Dr. John amplifies many of these greats with his signature style. From the loving rendition of “Iko Iko”, to the rolling keys of “Big Chief”, to the strong chants of “Little Liza Jane”, this album is Mardi Gras gold.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band - My Feet Can't Fail Me Now

Dirty Dozen Brass BandMy Feet Can’t Fail Me Now

Big, brassy sounds are quintessential New Orleans and Dirty Dozen Brass Band is perhaps the most well-known purveyors of this segment of Mardi Gras music. Representing a departure from the traditional brass style of earlier Jazz predecessors, their brazen style and electric live performances have left a lasting impact on the city’s music. “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now” is the perfect anthem for your long Mardi Gras days.

Louis Armstrong - Mardi Gras March

Louis ArmstrongMardi Gras March

Lous Armstrong is a lion of Jazz. Though frequently associated with New York, he cut his chops in the Big Easy and was even King of Zulu Krewe in 1949. “Mardi Gras March” is his tribute to the city and festival that he forever held dear.

Courir du Mardi Gras

Various – Musique Cajun: Le “Courir” Du Mardi Gras A Mamou – Louisiane U.S.A.

On the outskirts of town in the rural plains of Southern Louisiana, Mardi Gras is celebrated in an entirely different way. With beer and liquor free flowing, an obligatory run through mud, communal gumbo, and whimsical costumes, Courir de Mardi Gras is nearly unrecognizable from it’s city dwelling sibling. Trade a brass section for a fiddle and English lyrics for French and you’ve got yourself a Cajun Mardi Gras. This album touches on some of the staples heard in yonder parish fields on Fat Tuesday.

Fats Domino - Let's Play Fats Domino

Fats DominoLet’s Play Fats Domino

We all know that New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz, but did it kick off Rock and Roll? Ask any Fats Domino fan and you might be surprised by the answer you get. His cover of the soulful “When the Saints Go Marching In” is still used when the New Orleans Saints put points on the board and can be heard echoing through the balcony-lined streets of the Crescent City throughout Carnival season.

Allen Toussaint - Southern Nights

Allen ToussaintSouthern Nights

A personal favorite of this author is the late, great Allen Toussaint. No list of iconic New Orleans music is complete without giving credit to this legend. You can’t go wrong with any Allen Toussaint album, but perhaps no other carries the sound and style of the city more than “Southern Nights”. A prolific songwriter and producer, Toussaint shines in this album and in doing so provides the perfect soundtrack to keep you grooving on those shimmering Mardi Gras nights.

Am I missing many others? Absolutely. From the Storyville Stompers that follow the Society of St. Ann to the river to remember those that have passed to the many marching bands that parade the streets, the history of Mardi Gras music is rich and seemingly never-ending. Help build on our list by sharing your favorite New Orleans’ albums to listen to during Carnival season in the comment. Don’t forget to check out one of your local record shops, or Discogs, to add these to your collection!

15 comments about “Nine Albums to Get You Ready for Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • willyrobinson 16 days ago
    Normally the Most Expensive Items list is a bunch of way-overpriced nostalgia, but this one is a total belter that grabs you right from the first listen. I have no idea how this wasn't a hit...
  • konanhauser 16 days ago
    A fantastic list.....only thing missing is the Wild Tchoupitoulas.....backed by the Meters with the Big Chief's up front....A Mardi Gras favorite of mine.
  • mftapper 16 days ago
    Hold up! What about "They Call Us Wild" by the Wild Magnolias. Recorded on the bayou at the Studio in the Country, Bogalusa La. back in 1974-'75, released as French Import only through Barclay records Matrix# 90033. This is my personal Holy Grail. Regardless of the meager sound quality, It is essential for Fat Tuesday: SideA,Track 2: New Suit. This is The Turbinton Brothers Masterpiece! Willie Tee on the keys Brother Earl on horns, Guitar June , Uganda Roberts, Etc. This is the Real Goo.
    Also, Don't forget Dr. John's "Gris Gris" on Atco for the freak in the family...
  • Keziapurrs 16 days ago
    How about Glactic!
  • swilliams0520 16 days ago
    @mftapper - That and Life is a Carnival both deserve to be on this list - good call! Gris Gris received an honorable mention in the "Dr. John's Gumbo" paragraph. That album is my type of weird!
  • swilliams0520 16 days ago
    @konanhauser - Forgetting to put the Wild Tchoupitoulas is my biggest regret of the week. Good call on them - their self-titled is one that I still need to add to my collection.
  • swilliams0520 16 days ago
    @willyrobinson - Never heard of Boco before but checking them out now and digging it. Nice tip!
  • swilliams0520 16 days ago
    @Keziapurrs - don't crucify me, but I'm a jam band novice so I haven't given Galactic a fair shot. Definitely a solid suggestion!
  • kbell75 16 days ago
    Very nice list! I've had the pleasure of seeing Dirty Dozen Brass Band many times with Widespread Panic (check out 'Night of Joy' live from House of Blues, Myrtle Beach(, as well as Wild Magnolias opening for Panic in NOLA.

    in 1995 I saw the Endymion parade with KC & the Sunshine Band, Huey Lewis & the News, and Chuck Norris!

    This is a good introduction to Galactic:
  • rodjohnbutler 16 days ago
    Great list. I’d also add Backatown by Trombone Shorty.
  • vleisman 15 days ago
    It would be great if I could add some or all of these to my wanted list. Easily I mean
  • swilliams0520 15 days ago
    @kbell75 - Tipitinas is one of my favorite venues, I'll definitely give that Galactic album a listen! That '95 parade sounds legendary.
  • swilliams0520 15 days ago
    @rodjohnbutler - Trombone Shorty is definitely a solid contemporary pick!
  • swilliams0520 15 days ago
    @vleisman - Sorry about that! If you click on an item in the marketplace you can jump to the release page and add it to your Wantlist from there. Let me know if you're having trouble and I'll try to help out.
  • Elbow72 12 days ago
    You can’t go wrong with this box set - everyone is on it. Dr John, The Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Clifton Chenier, Fats and countless more. It’s an outstanding collection. Drop me off in Noo Awlins baby!