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Inspiring almost beyond words,
This review is from: Our New Orleans: Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast (Audio CD)
I had no idea this recording would be so moving. On paper, the stellar lineup of artists in brand-new recordings of superb material seemed about as close to ideal as one could imagine -- and all to benefit a good cause -- but of course projects like this sometimes turn out to be well-meaning but artistically inert. This is not one of those times.
To go on and on about every track would take hours of writing, so I'll just cite my favorites, beginning with Allen Toussaint turning "Yes We Can Can" into an something with the primal power of "We Shall Overcome." Irma Thomas is mesmerizing in "Back Water Blues," followed by Davell Crawford's equally poignant "Gather by the River," leading into Buckwheat Zydeco's aching anthem, "Cryin' in the Streets." With its mournful slow step, it is the one track that evokes a New Orleans funeral march, and one of the disc's emotional high points.
Later Donald Harrison and the Wardell Quezergue Orchestra polish "It's a Wonderful World" to a gleaming shine, and the great Preservation Hall Jazz Band burnishes "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" with a nostalgic glow, not to mention some fabulous musicianship. In between the mood is sometimes more upbeat, even humorous. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is optimistic in a festive "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now," and Dr. Michael White's fluid clarinet is almost too happy in a foot-tapping "Canal Street Blues."
With many of the artists in temporary exile, the entire disc was recorded in various locations shortly after the overwhelming sadness of Hurricane Katrina. If there is any common thread, the selections show an enormous fighting spirit, but one that still makes time for grief to show through. I confess I haven't heard any of the other recorded projects released to help victims, but it would be hard to imagine one better conceived, performed and recorded than this.