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Talking 'Bout New Orleans

Reviewed by Robert Gabriel, January 13, 2006, Music

While devastating floods are nothing new to the city of New Orleans, widespread displacement of its citizens certainly is. When Louis Armstrong wondered "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," he never could have imagined that so many would now be feeling his expatriate pain. As the Crescent City attempts to rebuild itself and maintain its legacy as cultural wellspring, it's only fitting that musicians are stepping to the forefront of the recovery effort. Benefiting the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, New Orleans Musicians Clinic, Jazz Foundation of America, the Voice of the Wetlands, Higher Ground Hurricane Relief Fund, and MusiCares Hurricane Relief 2005, a series of collections has arrived to lend a helping hand. Some, such as Rounder's game A Celebration of New Orleans Music, fete past glories by the likes of Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Others, like the sublime Our New Orleans 2005 (Nonesuch), cast contemporary luminaries including Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, Eddie Bo, and the Wild Magnolias reacting anew to rising waters and governmental neglect. Dr. John offers his own take on the bleak situation with Sippiana Herricane (Blue Note), trading on the emotions of a city under siege. The prestorm sessions of I Believe to My Soul (Rhino), recorded by Joe Henry at Capitol Studios, recruited the resurgent efforts of Billy Preston, Mavis Staples, and Ann Peebles to the cause, a second disc preserving televised concerts on DVD. As Blue Note's Higher Ground: Hurricane Relief Benefit Concert at Lincoln Center contrasts the somber jazz tones of Norah Jones, Marcus Roberts, and Terence Blanchard with the resilient exuberance of Buckwheat Zydeco, Come Together Now (Concord) covers well-wishing ground all over the map as it brings together James Brown, Coldplay, Brian Wilson, Kanye West, and Barbra Streisand, all of whom demonstrate what it means to miss New Orleans.

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