Review: Treme- Music from the HBO Original Series, Season 1
I don’t watch much television. As long as I have MSNBC, ESPN, TCM, and TV Land, I am satisfied. I can’t tell you who won American Idol or Dancing with the Stars this season and I have only a very basic idea of what Glee is. I’ve been told that Treme is an HBO drama dealing with the lives of New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina, but I don’t know any more about it than that. What I do know, however, is that the show’s soundtrack is a damn good collection of New Orleans music that captures the spirit and history of the city’s legendary music scene while primarily focusing on the present-day artists.
The album kicks off with John Boutte’s “The Treme Song,” presumably the series’ theme song. It is a nice piece of bass-heavy funk rock that gets the album off to a good start and is followed by a new recording of “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” by the Rebirth Brass Band, captured live on the streets of the 9th Ward.
Elsewhere the album ranges from the traditional New Orleans Jazz Vipers to the hip-hop infused Free Agents Brass Band. Legends such as Dr. John, Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins, and Allen Toussaint make appearances (and Dave Bartholomew even plays trumpet on one of the tracks) alongside newer artists like Trombone Shorty and the Soul Rebels Brass Band. While on most collections this would make the album wildly inconsistent- take for example the many classic rock and country artists in open conflict with the new breed of entertainers- in New Orleans these musicians are all family and, especially in the wake of Katrina, have found a way to work together.
Even the two numbers by actors in the series are not bad at all. One finds Wendell Pierce singing a Bing Crosby classic backed by great New Orleans musicians such as fiddler Lucia Micarelli, while the other presents Steve Zahn, accompanied by Kermit Ruffins, performing a profane, Bush-bashing rewrite of Smiley Lewis’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” that must be heard to be believed.
Appearances by jazz pianist Tom McDermott, the Mardi Gras Indians and a classic recording from Louis Prima help in the producer’s efforts to present as many styles of New Orleans music as possible, but the best performance of the album comes from an outsider. Steve Earle’s “This City” is a superb ballad that packs a ton of emotion and is far superior to anything on his last two records. Perhaps the great team behind him- namely, T-Bone Burnett and Allen Toussaint-helps in that regard.
My one minor complaint is that the sequencing of the album’s final two tracks should have been reversed. While the R&B of Lil Queenie & the Percolators is great, it doesn’t make for an effective album closer. On the other hand, the Treme Brass Band’s passionate rendition of the classic hymn “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” would have accomplished this perfectly.
In conclusion, this is a spectacular album. While we all will have favorite artists we wish were included here (to the best of my knowledge Cowboy Mouth is still together and Fats Domino is still alive), it is impossible to complain about the quality of the music that is here. And while there are literally dozens of collections chronicling the music of New Orleans’ past, few cover the present as well as this one.