[4 October 2007]
While the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina destroyed thousands of lives, there are certain touchstones and icons of the city that also met with a sad end. Fats Domino was originally thought to have perished in the storm and ensuing flooding, but fortunately reports of his untimely demise were false. What wasn’t false was how Domino’s home was flooded, a Coast Guard helicopter rescued him and his family, but all of his personal possessions were floating in his home. The accolades, the awards, the photos, all of the material possessions of a man who is one of the cornerstones of rock and roll were all turned into debris by hurricane Katrina.
Yet while all the devastation surrounded him, fortunately water, fire, flood, wind or any other power of Mother Nature can not destroy “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Let the Four Winds Blow” and darn near anything else Mr. Domino put his vocals and delicate hands into. Now, friends and fellow musicians have come to Domino’s assistance and also those of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans with Goin Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino. And while the efforts generally don’t compare to the original classics, most of them are done in the spirit that Antoine Domino would most likely approve of.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping aspect to this record is just how many names, as in very, very big names, there are here beginning with the late John Lennon doing a jazzy, Beatles-tinged, (of course), rendition of “Ain’t That a Shame”. It’s the first of 15 songs on the first disc and gets it off to a great start. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ version of “I’m Walkin’” comes off, sounding like those all-star finale tributes at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies that look, (and possibly sound), better on paper. Another Beatle comes along when Paul McCartney and Allen Toussaint deliver “I Want to Walk You Home” with Toussaint eerily sounding like Fats himself.
But it seems that throughout the album, the older or elder generation that Domino grew up with seems to put the best spins on these songs as is the case with Blues Boy King alongside Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk nailing “Goin’ Home” and especially Taj Mahal and The New Orleans Social Club staying true to “My Girl Josephine” while breaking into French briefly. It also appears that those artists from New Orleans can directly relate to this material since they too were deeply affected by what did and did not happen after Katrina. The first true highlight though has to be Joss Stone, Buddy Guy and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band showing some amazing chemistry during the bluesy, slow groove “Every Night About This Time”. When it comes time for Dr. John to dust off “Don’t Leave Me This Way”, it comes off as much more than a simple love song but a cry for assistance.
The respect, care and genuine love the artists give towards each of these numbers are what make this compilation so different than other tossed together tributes that come off very stale and telegraphed. For instance you’d be hard pressed to have Randy Newman, The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Robert Plant and Corinne Bailey Rae in the same room and performing the same song, but here each of their versions are gold, particularly Newman’s take on “Blue Monday” although Robertson’s homage, with help from Galatic, to “Going to the River” brings to mind Daniel Lanois.
As for the second disc, well it’s more of the same high quality and class. Even Neil Young’s version of “Walking to New Orleans” could give the listener chills with the use of harmonica, horns and the sweet arrangement, which is close to the original hit. However, the biggest hit of this compilation is likely “Valley of Tears” which Robert Plant in his second of two appearances on the album, downplays with The Soweto Gospel Choir backing him. It almost makes a sultry performance of “My Blue Heaven” by Norah Jones seem to be average but doesn’t remove any of the verve or bluster emanating from Lucinda Williams during the crunchy country-blues stew of “Honey Chile”.
The biggest flaw here is that the man himself isn’t here on the compilation to perform or make a cameo. But judging by how well Ben Harper and The Skatalites revamp “Be My Guest” into a warm, island-tinged ditty a la Sam Cooke it is a miscue that can be forgiven. The first flaw though is how laidback and carefree “Let The Four Winds Blow” sounds by Toots and his Maytals. Don’t worry though as things brighten up with the slow, Domino-ish “I Hear You Knockin’” by Willie Nelson.
Whether you’re listening to Herbie Hancock lend his talents to a funked-up and jazzy gem like “I’m Gonna Be a Wheel Someday” or Los Lobos with “The Fat Man”, the album is great but could be better. And it could be better if Fats Domino was doing them himself. Nonetheless, it’s definitely one of the best tribute albums of recent, (and non-recent), memory to a big wheel in early rock and roll.