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Various Artists: Our New Orleans 2005 (2005)

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Various Artists: Our New Orleans 2005 One of the best and most tragic ways we have to know how much something matters is to go through the experience of having it taken away. To the people of lowland New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was the end of a way of life. To the people of the United States, New Orleans herself winked out for just a millisecond or two. Just long enough to really scare people in this country and remind at least some of them that we're all vulnerable to the forces of nature, whatever color we happen to be.

At about that point, I bet more than a few people started digging through their Louis Armstrong and Meters records, pulling out the brass bands and dirty funk, looking and listening for the deep groove that New Orleans gave birth to long ago and has refreshed more or less continually along the way. The nice thing about New Orleans is that it doesn't really matter if you're 90 or 20, black, white, or Creole, you're going to like at least some of the city's music. Swingers, funksters, and hipsters alike can all dig the Crescent City.

Which brings us to the current collection of sixteen tracks, freshly recorded during September and October of this year for the purpose of celebrating New Orleans and helping pay for her rebirth. The Allen Toussaint funk anthem "Yes We Can Can" throws the doors open wide with a light, jittering groove and a catchy female chorus. From there on, there's no return—and why would you want to, anyway? Irma Thomas sings a gritty "Back Water Blues" which tells the story of a near-biblical flood in down-home terms. Simple gospel piano and vocals carry the torch on "Gather by the River"; Dr. Michael White's old- time brass swing is more bump than blues; and Charlie Miller's "Prayer for New Orleans" is just one man and his trumpet reaching out to God.

Depending on your tastes, you'll enjoy different parts of this collection more than others. I didn't get much out of the orchestral stuff or the old standards ("Saints" and "Wonderful World"), but I'm certain that plenty of other people will find them enticingly romantic. In any case, it's hard to imagine assembling a better collection of new music, in terms of depth and diversity, than this—especially so quickly. Net proceeds from the sale of this recording will go to Habitat for Humanity, which will help rebuild New Orleans. Be sure to check Our New Orleans on the web for sound and video.

(I hate to rain on the second line, but Habitat spends a fifth of its budget on fundraising... which is not all that encouraging, but this is still a good way to make a difference.)


Track Listing: Allen Toussaint: Yes We Can Can; Dr. John: World I Never Made; Irma Thomas: Back Water Blues; Davell Crawford: Gather by the River; Buckwheat Zydeco: Cryin' in the Streets; Dr. Michael White: Canal Street Blues; Wild Magnolias: Brother John Is Gone/Herc-Jolly-John; Eddie Bo: When the Saints Go Marching In; Dirty Dozen Brass Band: My Feet Can't Fail Me Now; Carol Fran: Tou' les jours 'est pas la mme; BeauSoleil: L'Ouragon; Preservation Hall Jazz Band: Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans; Charlie Miller: Prayer for New Orleans; The Wardell Quezergue Orchestra featuring Donald Harrison: What a Wonderful World; Allen Toussaint: Tipitina and Me; Randy Newman and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra with members of the New York Philharmonic: Louisiana 1927.

Record Label: Nonesuch Records

Style: Funk/Groove


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