The local songs written after Hurricane Katrina play like a time capsule, capturing everything that was in the air at the time—deep sorrow, tenacious spirit, and more than a little dark humor.
Bonerama “Lost My House (But I Got My Rugalator)”: Perhaps the closest thing to a party song to emerge after Katrina, this was a rewrite of the band’s longtime live favorite “Shake Your Rugalator.” But if you consider that a rugalator is a mystic charm that represents part of this city’s culture, you know why they needed to hang onto theirs.
Wendell Brunious “Won’t Somebody Please Tell Me”: Katrina herself is never mentioned in this deep blue ballad that the trumpeter wrote while in exile. But the questions he asks—“How can my poor heart stand it, how can I feel so blue?”—spoke for many at the time.
Cowboy Mouth “Home” and “The Avenue”: Cowboy Mouth was nearly through recording its Voodoo Shoppe album when the storm hit, but these quickly-added songs—the first by Paul Sanchez, the second by Fred LeBlanc—were the keepers. Sanchez’s song is a tough blues that minces no words—“I wanna go home, whatever it takes”— and LeBlanc puts his trademark dogged optimism to good use. Amid the anthemic chorus, his key line is easy to overlook: “Fate has a way of showing who’s boss—for now.”
Susan Cowsill “Crescent City Snow”: The singer endured more than her share of loss in the storm, and this song—which references a light snowstorm that happened in town a few months before the deluge—saw some especially aching performances in the months that followed. By the time she included it on her Lighthouse album, she gave the song a more hopeful coda.
Bryan Lee “Katrina Was Her Name”: This lowdown acoustic blues makes its point less with the lyrics than with the strong emotion in Lee’s voice when he sings them. The dread and choked-up rage is all there, and the last verse—“I got a sad feeling, oh, that New Orleans is gone”—is a reminder of how bleak things looked at the time.
Anders Osborne “Oh Katrina”: The idea of casting Katrina as a woman who broke his heart and destroyed his home may seem a little obvious now, but there’s no forgetting how effective the surprise twist was when he did the song live around 2006.
Johnny Sansone “I’m Goin’ Home”: This piano tearjerker captures the particular moment of approaching the city for the first time after the storm, the singer not knowing if he’s ready for what he’s going to find, but knowing there’s only one direction to head in.
Mem Shannon “All I Have”: The bluesman crafted one of the more poignant Katrina songs, a mournful ballad about the singer and his mother picking through the wreckage of their home and reconstructing their family’s story over the trash.
Walter “Wolfman” Washington “I’m Back”: Washington was famously the first artist to perform music in town after Katrina, and he was also the first one in with a reassuring song. “That Katrina was nothing nice, she was a bad mother” he growls over a funk riff. But his intent is to revitalize a few spirits, and the chorus—“I’m back, where y’at?”—does the trick.