After Katrina, everyone eventually had to get back to work. As cataclysmic events are wont to do, though, the storm informed almost every aspect of people's day-to-day lives, seeping into the way we did things, saw things and felt about things. In New Orleans, it's difficult to walk down the street without bumping into a musician, so it makes sense that the hurricane was followed almost immediately by a virtual flood of songs, records and performances inspired by the Katrina muse. Like the literal flood she also wrought, some of them are awful. Some are funny. Some are deeply powerful. Some only reference the hurricane obliquely, and some came from people who don't even live here. Below are some of the standouts.
Songs off post-Katrina CDs:
• "Fortunate Son," Ivan Neville
Neville's take on John Fogerty's classic stands in counterpoint to Cyril Neville's version of Curtis Mayfield's defiant anthem "My Country," on this excellent compilation. Sing Me Back Home was recorded in Austin by a shifting collection of exiled New Orleans musicians in the early fall of 2005, and the tone shifts from spirit-raising cheer to channeled hurt and betrayal; Neville balances the multitude of emotion deftly with this funky, syncopated interpretation of an outsider's protest, at a time when New Orleans was apparently the unwanted stepchild of the United States. The track fades out with a wry chant: "Take me back to New Orleans/ Whatcha gonna do with the money?"
• "F*** Katrina," 5th Ward Weebie
The fact that Katrina rhymes with FEMA means that the storm engendered approximately a zillion New Orleans bounce tracks, including but not limited to the party-scorching 504 Boyz album Hurricane Katrina: We Gon Bounce Back (Guttar Music), the Bounce For Relief mix tape and of course, Juvenile's Reality Check (Atlantic). This cathartically dirty-mouthed track, though, is hands-down the unofficial anthem for post-Katrina life, as it spends five minutes and three seconds giving frustrated shoutouts to every irritating new norm Katrina foisted on us, from waiting on hold to waiting in lines to waiting for the mythical second FEMA check to show up in the mail. Plus, there's a little voice in everyone's head that, like Weebie, is constantly yelling, "F*** Katrina, F*** Katrina, F*** Katrina (and that skanky ho Rita.)"
• "The River In Reverse," Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint
Elvis Costello was the first major artist to come to New Orleans after the storm to do something besides get his picture taken. In December, he joined industry legend Allen Toussaint at Piety Street Studios to record the heartbreakingly beautiful collaboration River In Reverse (Verve.) Costello began penning the title track, his only solo contribution to the album, at the end of September after playing a Katrina benefit in New York -- the dirgelike tone and plaintive lyrics are Costello at his bitter best: "Wake me up / wake me up with a slap or a kiss / there must be something better than this / because I don't see how it can get much worse / what do we have to do to put the river in reverse?"
• "Blues for the Lower 9," DJ Potpie
There's something unnerving about this ambient electronic track; muffled noises that sound like children at play are submerged under a shimmery keyboard pattern that's repeated over and over. For such a peaceful song, it's downright spooky -- it's the perfect elegy for a once-vital neighborhood that was suddenly hushed.
• Bruce Springsteen at Jazz Fest
Springsteen channeled Woody Guthrie with his rabble-rousing folk set at the Fairgrounds: its peak was his unrecorded cover of Blind Alfred Reed's Depression-era blues "How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live," with new lyrics tailored for Katrina.
• Mos Def at the MTV Video Music Awards
The "Katrina Clap," a freestyle rap about Bush's embarrassingly blas reaction to the storm, is a great song. What makes it even better is Mos Def rolling up outside Radio City Music Hall during the Video Music Awards to perform it from the back of a flatbed truck for the assembled paparazzi -- and getting himself arrested for it, to boot.
Unreleased Tracks: Songs by local and national artists available online only.
• "Dry Drunk Emperor," TV On The Radio (available at www.tgrec.com)
Punk-gospel fuzz and lyrics that pull no punches in indicting the Bush administration and their unfortunate choices as to where to direct the country's resources.
• "Still I Don't Run," DC Harbold (www.myspace.com/famovs)
Resigned optimism in a gentle waltz time that captures the Katrina paradox: Constant wonder at why you're here, and surety that you wouldn't want to go anywhere else.
• "Katrina," MC Trachiotomy (www.myspace.com/mctrachiotomy)
Practically indecipherable layers of sound punctuated with burbling noises, angry nature sounds, a funereal violin and Trachiotomy's own indistinct-on-purpose rapping. It's fascinating and foreboding at the same time, like what wandering the city streets right after the event must have been. Also like the actual event, it's punctuated by fuzzy, confusing snatches of Mayor Nagin's voice.
• "Crescent City Snow," Susan Cowsill (www.susancowsill.com)
A bittersweet ballad made for belting, this track probably makes at least one person cry every time Cowsill performs it. There's joy in her litany of Crescent City attractions, but it sounds almost like a eulogy; her verse-ending "Man, I can't wait to go home," comes off like the singer isn't sure if she'll get to.
- Jimmy Katz
- Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint worked togther on River in Reverse.