PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Various Artists: City of Dreams

This collection spreads piano, blues, street beats, and slippery funk over four discs that are as joyous and imperfect as the Crescent City itself.

Various Artists

City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music

Contributors: Professor Longhair, Eddie Bo, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Champion Jack Dupree, Irma Thomas, Ruth Brown, Tuts Washington, Chuck Carbo, Davell Crawford, Dirty Dozen Brass, Rebirth Brass Band
Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
UK Release Date: 2007-10-22

City of Dreams gathers together some joyful and bittersweet music and anyone unfamiliar with Professor Longhair, Eddie Bo, Johnny Adams, James Booker, Champion Jack Dupree, Irma Thomas, Ruth Brown, and Tuts Washington should take a week off to remedy that situation immediately. Clarence Gatemouth Brown makes an appearance too, one foot in Texas and one in Louisiana, as always. The Golden Eagles and The Wild Magnolias show a vivid strand of New Orleans’ unique culture and there are also fine younger generation artists here such as Rebirth Brass Band, New Orleans Nightcrawlers, David Torkanowsky, and Davell Crawford.

The Nightcrawlers are arguably the most proficient musicians on the brass band scene, but like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band before them, Rebirth is a must-see band, magnificent when the real line-up actually hits the stage and with enough raw power and swing to drive an audience to do things in public they wouldn't do in their bedrooms with the lights out! Elsewhere, it’s nice to hear forgotten stars like Eddie Bo and Chuck Carbo again. Carbo had hits in the 1950s with the Spiders, worked in a lumber yard when gigs dried up, and then came back to record again in the early 1990s with Drawers Trouble.

Rounder claim that City of Dreams is the definite set from their roster of New Orleans artists, but there is no explaining the absence of Fats Domino (who has recorded for the label). It’s also doubly odd that the Mardi Gras song “Carnival Time”, by Al “Carnival Time” Johnson appears on the disc entitled “Big Easy Blues”; but its winter mirror-image, Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, doesn’t feature anywhere. It is perverse to give Davell Crawford three cuts to Champion Jack Dupree’s one, and to include a piece that Solomon Burke recorded in nearby Slidell is more than a stretch. Sorry, no one would include Burke on a list of New Orleans artists. The title is also almost too close for comfort to Randy Newman’s Land of Dreams album which included a couple of elegies to the Crescent City part of his childhood.

Luckily, none of these gripes matter much. This music is a slippery customer, sliding easily between church, barroom, and bedroom with little use for foolish notions of purity or accuracy. The city opts for celebration and ritual over perfection. Indeed, most literary and cinematic attempts to capture its essence merely prove the folly of putting the word “definitive” and the words “New Orleans” in the same sentence. New Orleans resists the spreading blueprint of Identiplace, USA because its own tenacious and complex African, Caribbean, and European heritage propagates unique architecture, cuisine, and music.

The Wild Magnolias

And make no mistake, the food and sounds of the Crescent City are as valuable as the buildings in the French Quarter and Garden District. Unfortunately, while a road sign welcomes drivers to “America’s Most Interesting City”, the lack of a coherent infrastructure to reward creativity means guys of the caliber of Louis Prima, Danny Barker, and Wynton Marsalis must leave to prosper. It’s no secret, either, that long before Hurricane Katrina’s arrival, local government cheerfully agreed to sell off or demolish landmarks such as the store where Louis Armstrong bought his first trumpet.

Of course, few people leave the Crescent City completely behind. The Marsalis family remains one of the bedrocks of musical life in New Orleans. After backing Billie Holiday and others, Danny Barker returned (with wife, the phenomenal Blue Lu) and his subsequent involvement with the Fairview Baptist Church mentored Wynton & his brother Branford, Leroy Jones, Dr. Michael White, Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, and Kirk Joseph. A new generation of torch-carriers. Amen to that, and to the recent efforts of James Andrews.

Professor Longhair

Anyway, of the four discs in question, “Funky New Orleans” is the least satisfying. It contains no really indispensable tracks and certainly nothing approaching the absolute genius of The Meters or Lee Dorsey. Despite his unquenchable gigging stamina, I’ve never quite “got” Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and “Ain’t No Yachts in the Ghetto” by Theryl Houseman de’Clouet seems wooden and wordy. It’s probably heresy to admit all that, but having spent 13 fascinating years in New Orleans, parroting boosterism doesn’t feel right. To hear some people tell it, not even the most minor local artist could ever release a poor record and everyone deserved an annual award. Of course, there has been far worse and far more dangerous subterfuge.

Bush stood in Jackson Square and read a speech writer's lies. He read that no one could have envisaged that the levees would break, yet many scientific reports of the last 25 years gave that precise warning. Then some people insultingly suggested the city might come back “better”, a thinly disguised code for “whiter” that provoked Mayor Ray Nagin's infamous “Chocolate City” comment. For all his failings, at least Nagin was able to make a P-Funk reference! After all the nightmares, the willful neglect, the incompetence, the ignorance and the hypocrisy, eventually the spirit of its ordinary people will lift New Orleans again, and it’s funkiness will play a part. Earl King had it right when he sang “There ain’t no city like New Orleans!”

There are some sad tunes in this collection. Both David Torkanowsky’s “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” and Tuts Washington’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans”, all the more poignant in the aftermath of disaster, deftly avoid mawkishness. Mainly though, things are up-tempo and mostly groovy. It would have been cool to see John Mooney and Snooks Eaglin featured here, but their best work isn’t on Rounder. Earl King, Danny and Blue Lu Barker, Lee Dorsey, Ernie K-Doe, John Boutte, The Iguanas and countless other artists aren’t here either, because they are on other labels. That’s not a criticism of Rounder, just a call to action for record buyers! Since we’re on the subject, while the brief of this set is clear, any package that claims to explore every musical style in the city had better nod to Quintron & Pussycat, Potpie, Glyn Styler, and the exiled John Sinclair.

Decades ago, William S. Burroughs called New Orleans a decaying museum in the swamps. Certainly, the city can appear more stubbornly unhurried than the Zulu parade, happier looking back than ahead, and absolute heaven for cynics. Schoolchildren wander home blowing shiny horns. Ancient trees sprawl magnificently across yards and sidewalks with their roots pushing into the potholed streets. Families cook-out on streetcar tracks on Mardi Gras day, far from the tourists in the Quarter showing their breasts for plastic beads. The encyclopedic Louisiana Music Factory store is hassled by City Hall for having free shows with free beer. Signs urge patrons to buy “Bake Chicken” and schoolchildren to “Stay Focus”. A vicious drug trade fuels an endless plague of killing. The good times roll at the Saturn bar, the Columns Hotel, Rock n Bowl, Irene’s, Angelo Brocado's, the Spellcaster lounge, Napoleon House, Bozo's, Commander’s Palace, Vaughan's and elsewhere. Young women, some with skin stretched tight as boudin, get their cocktail of HIV medicine from Charity Hospital. Mardi Gras Indian tribes awaken and illuminate blighted neighborhoods. WTUL 91.5 FM plays new stuff for those who’d escape the ever-diminishing circles of local roots culture. Strange and wonderful sounds leak from the cottage-industries at McKeown’s Books & Difficult Music, Anxious Sound, and Backporch Revolution. The air suffocates. Lovers hold hands in cemeteries. Oysters get baked. Statues of Saint Joseph are buried upside down in gardens to help sell houses. Rain washes the streets. Kids play at NOSA. People go to work and try to thrive. Gumbo bubbles. Roads follow the river, ghosts drift up Esplanade Avenue, or meet up at St Claude and Dumaine, and float on and on down Claiborne Avenue....

Or was that all a dream?


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.