Poems for New Orleans brings Fugs co-founder Ed Sanders' investigative poetry to disc for the first time. Recorded after Sanders' trip to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the writing of a book-length sequence titled Poems for New Orleans, Sanders brings his vast historical eye to bear on the Crescent City. Practicing the Charles Olson-derived practice of investigative poetry -- "to bring down into the vale of Ha Ha Hee/the North American CIA Police State," Sanders once wrote -- Sanders had recently been at work on his ambitious and multi-volume America: A History in Verse project, to which Poems for New Orleans, in some senses, acts as a tributary. Sanders likewise (and not surprisingly) connects New Orleans to other perennial interests, including William Blake and Greek and Egyptian mythology. The poems, as expected, are rich in their acquaintance and engagement with the city's history. Arranger Mark Bingham has some good fun, too, employing human Auto-Tuner Susan Cowsill to harmonize with Sanders' gruff spoken voice on "Unearned Suffering." He uses the city's traditional music sparingly, sometimes to great effect, including the spectral marching band that hovers behind Sanders on "My Ironing Band," perhaps the disc's most effective fusion, despite a slightly rushed reading from Sanders. The disc's 15-minute opening and closing numbers -- "The Battle For New Orleans" and "Then Came the Storm: A Prayer for the Victims of Katrina" -- are slightly clunky, but admirably ambitious. Buried inside the disc are a few Sanders songs, too, including his bit of poet-geek fan fiction, "What If William Blake Had Gone to New Orleans?," which -- by the end -- emerges into a full-on Fugs croon. On "Some FEMA Trailers in Hope," he provides a fourth installment in the corny Johnny Pissoff character he nurtured on his questionable post-Fugs solo albums. Sanders does better here, turning in a semi-Dylan talking surreality, but Sanders' faux-redneck accent has never been becoming. Also of note is a guest appearance by scholar/musician Ned Sublette playing guitar on "Grace Lebage."
Poems for New Orleans Review
by Jesse Jarnow