Treme – Music From The HBO Original Series, Season 1 – Geffen Records B0014910-02, 61:52 *****:
(Fearturing the music of John Boutte; Trombone Shorty; Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint; Steve Earle; Rebirth Brass Band; Soul Rebels Blues Band & John Mooney; The New Orleans Jazz Vipers; Treme Brass Band; Donald Harrison; Kermit Ruffins And The Barbecue Swingers; Mardi Gras Indians; Louis Prima; Tom McDermott & LuciaMicarelli; Michiel Huisman; Lil Queenie & The Percolators; Free Agents Brass Band; Dr. John; Paul Sanchez Glen David Andrews; Steve Zahn and Friends, and many others.)
The music of New Orleans is permanently connected to its unfair collective history. Over seventy years ago, a charismatic tragic political figure, Huey Long actually wrote his own campaign song, “Every Man a King”. No matter the severity of political shenanigans or the literal insanity of flood waters destroying the land, events were popularized in song (Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927), and popular media (Spike Lee’s monumental documentary, When The Levees Break). It appears that the tradition of arts and especially music has a healing quality, articulated in anger and frustration. The resiliency of the Crescent City is a force unto itself.
Treme (the name of the oldest African-American neighborhood in New Orleans) is fiction drawn from the truth of Katrina. The mélange of story lines are sketched in nineteen songs on the first season’s musical soundtrack. Each song is as diverse as the culture it is trying to capture. As expected, the songs speak for themselves. The opening title song starts with a marching drum beat, walking bass and barrelhouse piano as John Boutte offers a swinging vocal with a capella backup that sets the uplifting tone of the album. Next is a live spirited rendition of “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” by Rebirth Jazz Band. The album manages to mix established New Orleans acts with newer edgier bands. Stalwarts, Trombone Shorty and James Andrews break out the Dixieland horn arrangements on “Ooh Poo Pah Doo”. The song crackles with vigorous shout and response. Dr. John offers one of the sacred Indian songs, but with true Louisiana strut on “My Indian Red”. Another veteran New Orleans musician, Tom McDermott plays a nimble boogie woogie on the Jelly Roll Morton opus, New Orleans Blues”. The tune is explored in duet with the striking lyrical violin of Lucia Micarelli. Irma Thomas, “Soul Queen Of New Orleans” reprises her 1964 hit “Time Is On My Side” with legendary pianist Allen Toussaint. This soulful version, with doo wop chorus and muted trumpet, is quintessential.
The harsh realities of Katrina receive ample treatment in several songs. “Drink A Little Poison (4 U Die)", calls out the government in its “liar, liar” chant, surrounded by a looser funk structure. A modern sensibility pervades “We Made It Through The Water” (Free Agents Brass Band). Enveloped in a horn and vocal chorus of Wade In The Water, Lil’ Snoop recounts the harrowing narrative of hurricane survival with hip hop rhythm. Even cast members unleash a diatribe on President Bush (“Shame Shame Shame”). The moist poignant moment is delivered by Steve Earl on his original composition, “This City”. His refrain of “this city won’t wash away, this city will never drown” brings heartbreaking pathos to the narrative.The production of the soundtrack is brilliant. The jagged roughness of live jams and precise studio engineering submerges the listener into the complex world of modern day Louisiana. Whether it’s art imitating life, or life imitating art, Treme – Music From The HBO Original Series Season 1 is simply unforgettable.
TrackList: Treme Song; Feel Like Funkin’ It Up; I Hope You’re Comin’ Back To Orleans; Skokiaan; Ooh Poo Pah Doo; Drinka Little Poison (4 U Die); We Made It Through That Water; Shame Shame Shame; My Indian Red; At The Foot Of Canal Street; Buona Sera; New Orleans Blues; I Don’t Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You; Indian Red (Wild Man Memorial); Indian Red; Time Is On My Side; This City; Just A Closer Walk with Thee; My Darlin’ New Orleans — Robbie Gerson