Whatever you call it -- the Big Easy, Crescent City, N.O., or just by its regular name -- there's no doubt that the contribution of New Orleans to American music is almost as big as Memphis or Clarksdale. So big, in fact, that it takes two CDs to offer a selection of hits to come out of the city from 1950-1970. The unique rhythm runs throughout the music, from the early rock & roll of Fats Domino (whose tracks, it should be noted, aren't well-known studio recordings, but live takes, albeit good ones) on "The Fat Man" and "Walking to New Orleans" and Jessie Hill ("Ooh Poo Pah Doo Parts 1 & 2"), all the way through to the Meters and "Chicken Strut." The simple truth is that New Orleans has more funk than any other place in America. It's there in Ernie K-Doe's "Mother in Law"; almost anything by Lee Dorsey, be it "Ya-Ya," "Holy Cow," or the classic "Working in a Coalmine"; Betty Harris (who, sadly, only has a single track here); and Aaron Neville's glorious "Tell It Like It Is," one of those transcendent vocal performances (although his more up-tempo, but lesser-known "Over You" is equally interesting). But New Orleans also offers the more obviously pop stylings of the Dixie Cups, with "Chapel of Love," "Little Bell," and others; Chris Kenner, whose "Land of 1000 Dances" remains an oldies staple; Benny Spellman; and Bobby Marchan, whose utterly scary "There Is Something on Your Mind" sounds like therapy to a rock & roll beat -- pure '50s surrealism. Robert Parker's "Barefootin'" gets a look in the hits section, as does Little Richard -- who was actually from Georgia, although his career really began in the Big Easy in 1955. Of course, there are omissions; how can you look at New Orleans and not include Professor Longhair, the city's most influential pianist, for instance? He had regional hits, as did Mac Rebbenack, better known as Dr. John. And there's perhaps too much reliance on tracks by the Meters to fill out the second CD, although it's perhaps difficult to be too harsh on anything from the funkiest band America's ever produced. The excellent liner notes are full of facts salient and obscure (did you know Benny Spellman provided the bass voice on "Mother-In Law"?) and a brief history of one of the most vibrant musical cities in the United States.
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AllMusic Review by Chris Nickson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2