Though a new season is on the horizon, we might consider ourselves residents of a post-Treme culture. Our central narratives, historic touchstones, and musical traditions are now common knowledge to millions of viewers. The world’s flame for New Orleans burns everlasting, but Mardi Gras Indians were on cable and the shadows of mystery recede accordingly. Documentation of the city perseveres, but the congealing effect of an HBO show places the onus on other voices to tell new stories about this old place.
As the man behind the show’s theme song, John Boutté is uniquely suited to speak at this crossroads. On All About Everything, produced by Treme musical supervisor Blake Leyh, the singer holds fast to his identity: a medium for the spirit, his voice shaped by pride and perspective.
Hard to know if many revelations remain unturned in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” or Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” Certainly we have traveled to the river quite often in 6-plus years of homegrown recordings. While Boutté masters all of the above, his treatments of original compositions by local artists are the heart of the album.
The Alex McMurray-penned “Heaven’s Door” boasts Jon Cleary on keys, Matt Perrine on sousaphone, and Dr. Michael White on clarinet. If anyone is worried about this city’s ability to foster new music with both traditional depth and mass appeal, send them McMurray. “War is All Over” is vintage but previously unreleased Allen Toussaint (“and everyone and nobody won”), while Paul Sanchez’s “A Thousandfold” is a solid reggae train ride. (Someone ought to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund an album of Boutté performing Desmond Dekker songs.)
Sooner or later, the last episode of the last season of Treme will air and fade to DVD sales. There will be a musical montage and “See You on the Other Side” should be the backing track. Co-writers Boutté, Leyh, Tom McDermott and Sanchez wave goodbye masterfully.
We live on the other side of the narrative’s wall, a good three to four years ahead of the story as told on television. Our tale was told; our tale still unfolds. Carried by a battalion of the city’s finest artists and confident in his role as clarion, John Boutté does a fine job of moving forward.