Willy DeVille (1950-2009) stands as a genuine American musical maverick. And Ace Records are proud to announce that they will reissue four lost DeVille albums over the coming months. I say “lost” as they were originally released by the long-defunct French label FNAC in the early-1990s. Across the Continent these records established DeVille as a huge star yet they were never released in Britain. To those of us who consider him not just underrated but one of the most talented singers and songwriters of the late-20th Century their reissue is something to celebrate.
First is “Willy DeVille In New Orleans”, a CD that gathers his 1990 album “Victory Mixture” alongside tracks from 1995s “Big Easy Fantasy”. These albums document DeVille’s obsession with the Crescent City’s music and street culture.
Relocating from New York to New Orleans saved DeVille’s life and art: having emerged from CBGBs in 1977 and scored an international hit with the classic ‘Spanish Stroll’, his artistic and commercial standing tanked across the 1980s (due to bad albums, addictions and behaviour). “Victory Mixture” found DeVille gloriously singing lost Big Easy R&B anthems while surrounded by a crack band that included Dr John, Allen Toussaint, Barbara George, George Porter, Eddie Bo and many other highly-rated local music alumni. Cut on a tiny budget, the album proved a huge European success, winning him his first gold album. “Big Easy Fantasy” compiled live recordings of DeVille and his Crescent City friends alongside unreleased and remixed (ie: horns added to brighten – no disco beats!) cuts from the “Victory Mixture” sessions. Gathered together, “Willy DeVille In New Orleans” provides a striking portrait of an artist reinvigorating himself through New Orleans’ magical musical waters. The CD comes with unpublished photos and extensive sleeve notes that include my interviews with DeVille and those who worked with him.
Willy DeVille died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. He had conquered his addictions and was making superb music. While obituaries celebrated “a punk pioneer” few had any idea that his music had ranged so widely and mined so many rich seams. Ace Records’ reissue of his lost albums aims to rectify that and return him to his place as one of the great American musical mavericks.
By Garth Cartwright