The New Orleans Social Club

Sing Me Back Home

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Make no mistake, the title of this album, Sing Me Back Home, is about as literal as a title can get. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina many New Orleans residents found themselves scattered all over the country with little or nothing left of their homes to go back to, and this included any number of musicians, some of whom found solace and shelter in the musical community of Austin, TX, where they formed, at least for the purposes of this album, a loose-knit confederation called The New Orleans Social Club. Sing Me Back Home is the Social Club's attempt to do just that, to get back home, at least musically. The tracks run the emotional gamut, from resignation to pride, hope, anger, and defiance, all given continuance by the presence of the Meters' rhythm section (bassist George Porter, Jr. and guitarist Leo Nocentelli, with drummer Raymond Weber, and if a certain sense of displacement is the tangible theme here, the music itself does an amazing job of conjuring New Orleans anew, at least for the hour the CD is spinning. Cyril Neville's opening cover of Curtis Mayfield's "This Is My Country" sets the tone, reminding government agencies that entitlement does not vanish with displacement. Henry Butler's piano version of "Somewhere" from West Side Story makes the song even more wistful, and his whispery, halting vocal seems to carry as much unsaid doubt as certainty, giving the song a fragile, heart-stopping appeal. The Subdudes' take on Earl King's "Make a Better World" is both a statement and a challenge. Irma Thomas revisits "Look Up," which she first recorded in 1960 when she was still a teenager, with piano and vocal help from Austin's Marcia Ball. Dr. John's "Walking to New Orleans" takes on a completely literal cast in the wake of the Katrina devastation. One of the most striking tracks on an album that is full of striking tacks is John Boutté's delicate reading of Annie Lennox's "Why," with lines like "oh the little funky town/that's where I live/don't know why/you want to chase me away" echoing with an eerie poignancy over an insistent reggae rhythm. Many of these musicians may never return to New Orleans, for Katrina left a social and economic devastation equal or greater than the physical destruction to the city, but during the sessions for Sing Me Back Home, at least, each of these musicians did go back home. The evidence is here.

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