The unique place the Crescent City holds in American music is evident in the breadth of guests and the utter commitment in their performances with the Preservation Hall band on this project, designed to raise money to support training and mentoring of young musicians wishing to become practitioners of the century-old musical strain known as New Orleans jazz.
Preservation Hall opened in the French Quarter nearly half a century ago, its mission to keep that music alive at a time when it had fallen out of fashion in jazz circles. Today, Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, Del McCoury, Steve Earle, Brandi Carlile, Andrew Bird, Pete Seeger and Buddy Miller are among the many devotees who are backed by Preservation Hall players on a set consisting predominantly of traditional tunes.
It's a natural fit for pop music throwbacks such as Paolo Nutini and roots-music enthusiasts such as Miller and Jason Isbell. Haggard, by way of his lifelong love for the Western swing of Bob Wills, drops perfectly into the pocket singing Basin Street Blues."
The happy surprise is just how ideally the Preservation Hall band's freewheeling accompaniment dovetails with Waits' back-alley bang-and-crash approach on the second-line rave-up Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing." Bluegrass standard-bearer McCoury couldn't sound any more joyful than he does here, tackling After You've Gone." And the godfather of New Orleans jazz, Louis Armstrong, turns up in a hybrid performance with modern-day Preservation Hall players in Rocking Chair."
At its heart, New Orleans jazz may be the ideal musical expression of the American notion of democracy: individuals expressing themselves in a singular way, while working together toward a common goal, in this case in service to the songs at hand. That keeps this outing from being simply a nostalgic salute to a bygone form of music, but makes it a vibrant collaboration with its vision locked squarely on the future.