Kevin Gordon Iguanas tour pic shop

On the albums he’s released over the past 30 years, Nashville singer, songwriter and guitarist Kevin Gordon has established himself as a rock ’n’ roller with a literary bent. Gordon grew up in Monroe, La., where he absorbed punk, soul and blues. Over the years, he’s worked with some of Nashville’s best musicians on albums like 2015’s Long Gone Time and 2018’s Tilt and Shine. On Tuesday, March 29, at City Winery, Gordon kicks off his latest tour with the first in a series of dates with New Orleans band The Iguanas. They'll back him on a set of his songs and play a set of their own. It’s a great pairing: The Iguanas fuse R&B and Tex-Mex with New Orleans rock ’n’ roll, while Gordon is a song poet who isn’t averse to working the room with a groove.

The tour itself was the idea of the booking agent Gordon and The Iguanas share. It comes at a good time for everyone involved: The Iguanas represent the polyglot music of New Orleans as well as anyone in the Crescent City right now, while Gordon’s songs have been interpreted on a new album, 11 From Kevin: Songs of Kevin Gordon, by singer Julie Christensen, who lived in Nashville for seven years before moving to New Mexico in 2020.

Gordon, who says he’s working on a new album with a set of Nashville players that includes multi-instrumentalist Fats Kaplin and producer-guitarist Joe V. McMahan, tells me he’s gratified by Christensen’s readings of his songs.

“The whole thing was a surprise to me,” Gordon says from his home in Nashville. “I think she told me about it in passing one night back when the latest incarnation of The Radio Cafe was still going.” As befits a member of ’80s punk-Americana band The Divine Horsemen, Christensen sings Gordon’s songs in a hushed manner that brings out the pathos in, say, his tale of down-and-out city life, “Jimmy Reed Is the King of Rock n’ Roll.”

Meanwhile, New Orleans-born bassist René Coman has played with The Iguanas since 1990. Founded by singer and guitarist Rod Hodges and saxophonist Joe Cabral, who moved to New Orleans in 1989, the band soon caught Coman’s ear.

“There was a high percentage of women who would come see the band,” Coman says from his home in New Orleans. “I thought, ‘This has potential.’ ”

Along with drummer Doug Garrison — a native of West Memphis, Ark., who had made his name by playing with Charlie Rich and Bluff City jazz pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. — Coman spent the latter half of the ’80s touring and recording with Alex Chilton. Garrison continued drumming in Chilton’s trio until the mid-’90s; he moved to New Orleans and joined The Iguanas in 1993.

Coman and Garrison talk about playing with the former Box Tops and Big Star singer in a 2018 Chilton-themed episode of Coman’s ongoing podcast Troubled Men. One of the lessons Chilton taught Coman was to always follow the singer, since there’s no way to be effective onstage if the singer isn’t comfortable — even if the singer isn’t following the structure of the song.

As Coman — a consummate pro who joined the New Orleans musicians’ union when he was 13 — tells me, he’s enjoyed the opportunity to delve into Gordon’s repertoire. “I’d heard his name around, but I wasn’t really very familiar with him. Since we’ve scheduled this thing, it turns out a lot of people that I know are well familiar with him. He’s a terrific songwriter — I really love all his music, and it’s been great digging in and learning these songs.”

Gordon’s songs, like the 10-minute narrative “Colfax/Step in Time” and the Stiff Records-style rockers that make up Tilt and Shine, lend themselves to creative reinterpretation, as Christensen’s album makes clear. Talking to Gordon, I get the sense he wants to keep the shows with The Iguanas as fluid as possible.

“I’m purposely not being very directive or heavy-handed about [the arrangements], because I want them to be them,” he says of The Iguanas. “It’s like Julie doing a whole record of my songs. It’s like, man, just to hear that stuff in another color palette, in somebody else’s words, it’s so much fun.”

It does sound like fun. On albums like 2014’s Juarez, The Iguanas achieve a velocity and density that registers as something like party time for sophisticates. Similarly, Gordon is as masterful a blues guitarist and singer as he is a first-rate songwriter. Basically, the tour will be a chance to see a great band and a great songwriter play the hell out of some of the best material being written anywhere right now.

“The Iguanas have always prided ourselves on being a good backing band,” Coman says. “People come and sit in with us, and we really pride ourselves on featuring the person and even calling a tune from our repertoire, where the person can really shine.”

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