Talking Grass with James Hausman
by Susan Marquez
The Tanglers is one of just a few bluegrass bands based in New Orleans, Louisiana. “New Orleans has such a rich music community,” says bandleader James Hausman. “Bluegrass music is slowly catching on here.” James grew up in New Mexico, where he developed a musical background in Western fiddle. “It has what I call New Mexico fill, which is closer to Cajun music.” When it was time for James to go to college, he chose Loyola University in New Orleans, where he majored in music education. “By my junior year of college, I was playing in five bands.” Today James is a full-time music teacher at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, where he teaches orchestral music to grades kindergarten through five.
James plays fiddle with The Tanglers. “I found The Tanglers after Katrina,” says James. “I joined them as a sub at first, and I’ve been playing with them ever since.” The band plays festivals and venues throughout the Gulf states and into Northern Louisiana. In 2019, James’ fiancé (now wife), Jena Hausman, had a special request for the band. “Her favorite movie is True Stories,” says James. “She wanted us to play the soundtrack of the movie for a party she was organizing.”
True Stories is a 1986 musical satirical comedy directed by David Byrne, the band leader of Talking Heads, formed by a group of former art school students in New York in 1975. The band provided most of the music in the film. Despite their avant-garde sensibilities, the band had a very clean-cut look, and their integration of punk, art rock, funk, and world music pioneered new wave music.
The members of the Tanglers thought playing the music of Talking Heads would be a one-off gig. What they didn’t anticipate was how much everyone would enjoy it. As it turns out, Talking Heads songs translate very well to bluegrass instrumentation and arrangements. The Tanglers have created a band alter-ego of sorts. “We call ourselves Talking Grass when we do our Talking Heads set,” says James.
Talking Grass has been a popular act in New Orleans. They recently performed at the NOLA Brewing Company, a brewery that presents live entertainment regularly. The group was the opening act for Hendrix Heads & Tails, a funk tribute to Jimi Hendrix featuring Ivan Neville (Dumpstaphunk), Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), and other regional musicians. When Talking Grass opened their set with the popular Talking Heads tune Once in a Lifetime, the crowd milling around the brewery’s colossal warehouse area gravitated toward the stage. It didn’t take long for people to start dancing and singing along with the popular songs in the 1980s.
James led the band on fiddle, as Jacob Tanner played dobro and Craig Alexander played guitar. Joining them was Ian Cunningham playing banjo and Graham Robinson on bass. Dylan Williams plays mandolin with the band but could not attend the show, so Aaron Wilkinson of the Honey Island Swamp Band stepped in on mandolin. All members of the band sing, with different members singing different Talking Heads songs during the show.
“Everybody in the band had a liking for Talking Heads,” says James, who says that David Byrne, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Talking Heads in 2002, often comes to New Orleans for the annual Jazz Fest. “We have covered other bands as well, including doing a Pink Floyd set for a special event and, of course, the ubiquitous Grateful Dead.” It’s a fun departure for the band, which typically plays old-time and original material, primarily written by its dobro player, Jacob Tanner.
Look for The Tanglers at The Wild Things Family Reunion, a music festival scheduled for November 10 through 21 at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Springfield, Louisiana, just outside New Orleans.
All photos courtesy of Tiffany Anderson of Feral Photography