So much American roots music is folk balladry when you get right down to it, or at least it started that way, which is why it’s disturbing how completely mainstream blues and country have turned into a sort of sonic tourism, a lifestyle music for fetishists. Now that the planet’s turning against us, however, it can get back to facing tragedy, which is where albums like this come in.
Katy Hobgood Ray is best known for her Confetti Park compilations, children’s music named after the play area in her old Algiers Point neighborhood. This solo song cycle, however, is about the next generation’s future, not its present: 10 simple tunes about facing the horrors of not only Katrina but the new normal it ushered in. The mission statement is “Washed Away,” with its poetic gospel hosannas (“The clouds rolled in and filled this town with tears”), but there’s also an attempt to exorcise the industry demons on “Oh Devil” (“Oh mother, what have we done to you / Stripped you down right in public view”) and a pointed recontextualization of Leadbelly’s “Little Children’s Blues.”
There’s also a good bit of soul: “Dirty Water” has the feel of Van Morrison’s R&B period, “Des Allemands” is a pure sweet swamp-pop memory, and “Lollie Bottoms” is what you’d get if Dusty Springfield prayed to a levee. And while Katy takes on the caustic political climate on “House Divided” and tries to find an upbeat ending in the jazzy “Kings, Queens, and Jesters,” it’s husband (and fellow songwriter) Dave who sums everything up best in the disarmingly offhand blues “That Really Matters,” suggesting it’s your integrity in each single moment that counts most. Too bad we don’t even agree on our hindsight anymore.