Making that Magic Happen: The Iguanas Mix Different Musical Styles Together on their Terrific New Album Juarez

A few weeks ago, sax man Kaz Kazanoff, a Texas guy who's played with blues artists such as Marcia Ball, Jimmie Vaughan and WC Clark, caught a show from the New Orleans group the Iguanas. He sent out a tweet that expressed how much he liked the band's set. Iguanas' bassist Rene Coman says Kaz summed things up pretty well.

"He said something like, 'Man, I really dig where the Iguanas are at right now,'" Coman recalls via phone from his New Orleans home. "That sums it up good. We dig where we're at right now too. We're playing as a four-piece and we really love the space it affords us and everyone is sounding strong. It has a telepathic aspect to it since the same band has been playing together for a few decades. It has a lot of air under the wings."

A New Orleans band that doesn't necessarily sound like a New Orleans band, the Iguanas have been kicking around since 1989. With their most recent releases, 2012's Sin to Sin and this year's Juarez, the band has hit a new creative high. The albums show off the band's extensive influences and dip into blues, Americana and jazz. While Coman hasn't been with the band since Day One, he joined the group shortly after it initially formed in 1989.

"They would play these late shows and the kinds of jobs I was playing at the time would get off earlier and I would swing by where they were and check them out," he says. "I just wound up sitting in with the band one night. It really clicked and my influences and background lined up perfectly with the wide variety of music they were playing. It was one of the things that was meant to be."

The band wasn't too popular in the early days, but Coman had a notion that things would eventually pick up.

"When I started playing with the band, we had 20 or 30 people in the audience but it was consistent," he says. "I liked the look of the audience. It was younger girls and a small percentage of guys. I thought it had potential. A couple of months later, we suddenly had 200 people in the crowd, and it built from there and took on a life of its own."

The band doesn't like your typical New Orleans jazz group either.

"We all are fans of all the different types of music we play," Coman says. "Our two singers both have Mexican ancestry and our saxophonist grew up playing in his father's mariachi band. Our guitar player grew up in the Northern bay area of California listening to Northern Mexican music. Both of those guys are fans of [Texas bluesman] Doug Sahm, which is a slight variation on the Northern Mexican thing. New Orleans has had a huge mambo tradition and Caribbean influence. We don't even recognize them as Latin styles. We're all fans of blues and jazz."

While Coman says the group doesn't play everything — you won't hear the guys experimenting with hip-hop or heavy metal — there aren't many limits to the types of music they'll play.

"If somebody came up with something where they wanted to play a style that was repugnant to me, I would have to tell them it's a bridge too far and I can't go there," Coman explains. "That never happens with the Iguanas. We seem to find a central thread to all of them. I wouldn't have predicted these things would work together but when you guys do it, it all makes sense."

It certainly makes sense on Juarez. The album kicks off with "Love, Sucker," a slow-motion song driven by a woozy saxophone riff. The band repeats the refrain "love, sucker" over and over. The song doesn't have any other lyrics and it doesn't need them either. "Make That Magic Happen" is another jazzy number that shows off the band's jazz chops. Thanks to a beefy bass riff and some spirited horns, it really swings.

"It was a lot of live stuff recorded on the floor with minimal overdubs," Coman says when asked about the recording process. "It's not like we built anything from the drum tracks up. What winds up happening is that you retain that rocking element of the band playing live. That's the central core of what you get on tape."

The positive reviews have poured in ever since the album came out earlier this year. Back with its old booking agent, the Iguanas hit the road hard and spent most of the summer on the road. Coman says the band is particularly excited to play the Beachland again — the group has put on some fantastic shows there in the past.

The album's good energy will certainly translate to the live setting. But to say the group rocks harder this time out might not entirely be accurate.

"Somebody said this is the most straight ahead rocking album the Iguanas have ever made," Coman says. "Okay. It's not like we set out to do that that. You go into it with the idea that you're open to the process and you've done it before. You follow the music where it leads you. You come up with this thing at the end. You go, 'What is this here?' Records we see as fans have these central themes that were recorded without that in mind. It's the material you have. The material tends to self organize. Our brains want to find patterns in things. The listener starts to pick out central themes. The album is just a reflection of where everyone is at that moment and where everyone's taste is leading them."

And at the moment, the Iguanas' taste is leading them in the right direction and like Kaz has said, there's plenty to dig.

The Iguanas with Balls of Fire

8:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, Beachland Tavern, 15711 Waterloo Rd., 216-383-1124. Tickets: $13 ADV, $15 DOS,

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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