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Big Easy Basics 

The Iguanas slither back to the essence of Americana.


It took a few years and an old friend to bring the Iguanas back around to making their best music. After earning an Americana tag and a reputation for fiery live shows in the early '90s, the New Orleans-based band devolved into stifled recordmaking. With its five members in a rut, the band's albums made for exasperating listening; its roots music had become multiple variations on the same theme.

So, for the new Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart, the band's fifth album, the Iguanas called back Justin Niebank, who produced their earliest records, to try for something different. "The sound is expanding," explains saxophonist Derek Huston. "The songs evolved in the studio. A lot of it went down live, but it was clear ahead of time that they were going to take different lives."

The results are well worth the extra effort. Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart is a moody, intense record that recalls Los Lobos in their prime, with horns, accordion, and intricate production running throughout. The Iguanas still fire up the occasional get-up-and-dance tune, but mostly you just want to sit down and listen to the details.

"It made sense to leave space in some of the songs," Huston says. "That's an interesting new texture for us. There's definitely more atmospheric stuff happening." The songs dig deep into sounds the band has long kept suppressed; they sound aged, which is appropriate, Huston says. "We have 10 more years of life and musical experience under our belts. This is a comfortable place for us."

The Iguanas formed at the end of the '80s, through the efforts of Rene Coman and Doug Garrison, veterans of cult hero Alex Chilton's band. The constant through the years has been their live shows, which never lost their roots-rock fervor. "The band is its own greatest asset," Huston says. "There's something about the energy you get back from an audience."

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