Sunday, June 25, 2006

Music That Will Change Other's Lives

Very soon, we'll mark the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina's Gulf Coastal onslaught.
There'll be remembrances, poignant and angry flashbacks all over the place, probably including on this blog.

I visited New Orleans last summer, just a few weeks before the storm hit. It's been one of my favorite cities since I was four or five years old, even though I didn't make it there in person til I was well into my twenties. My grandfather's stories of his occasional visits to the Crescent City brought to life a vibrant picture of a culture that is truly one of this nation's, let alone planet's, most festive and treasured.

Much has been made of the "spirit" of the people of the Gulf Coast, and , specifically, New Orleans. If you've ever been there, you've felt it. Especially if you've ever wandered into any of the joints featuring live music.

There've been a slew of benefit concerts and records since the floods, but of all the ones I've heard, OUR NEW ORLEANS stands out. It's a compilation of chestnuts by New Orleans artists like Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Great new versions of songs you've heard a billion times, but they have an added layer with the great loss and devastation felt by these folks...My favorites are a sparse, banjo-driven version of DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS? by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the hurting " "Crying in the Streets", a dead-on Buckwheat Zydeco track with guitar from Ry Cooder, Dr. John's "World I Never Made", just a devastating take, and Randy Newman with the Louisiana Philharmonic covering his LOUISIANA 1927. Check it out, the net proceeds are being given to Habitat for Humanity, who can most definately put it to good use rebuilding lives for people who can really use it...

The collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint is outstanding, so I highly recommend THE RIVER IN REVERSE. The two artists rekindled a long friendship while playing benefits after the hurricane, and the CD contains a great 30-min documentary on dvd called "Putting the River in Reverse" that's a great look at the making of the album, and a city on the brink. Highlights include the title track, and Costello's lyrics for Toussaint's interpretation of "Tipitina", titled "Ascension Day" here. It's a record with great lyrics, and killer horns. Great summer listening.

Soon, billions of federal dollars will begin pouring into New Orleans. As highlighted recently by the New York Times, NOLA mayor Ray Nagin, and the rest of the local bureaucrats down there haven't yet put any sort of plan in place for the rebuilding of New Orleans. There's trouble on the horizon in many ways down there. Here's hoping someone steps up, and gets their act together, for the sake of the people of New Orleans. True, most of them were dirt-poor financially, though they're all wealthy in spirit and soul.

Later this week, a reprint of a column I wrote for the RedEye shortly after all hell broke loose.


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