Various Artists, A Celebration of New Orleans Music (Rounder)

The cultural bloodlines of New Orleans have nearly been severed, its social fabric dangles by a thread and a new form of Southern Reconstruction is underway, thanks to Katrina, the baddest domestic bitch of all time. Only the resiliency and sheer determination of its people can restore the uniqueness of America’s greatest city before it’s rebuilt into another faceless, homogenized disaster. While there are countless relief efforts underfoot these days, the Cambridge Massachusetts-based Rounder Records is also rolling up its sleeves with a celebratory compilation of New Orleans music with proceeds benefiting MusiCares ® Hurricane Relief Fund. Since the Katrina catastrophe, MusiCares ® has provided over a million dollars worth of assistance to over 1,600 musicians for every basic living expense imaginable. Given Rounder’s sizable vault of New Orleans sessions waxed over the years, it’d be easy to rely only on a cache of perennial favorites that every bead-grabbing reveler knows by heart. Definitely, there’s a strand of those, Dirty Dozen whooping it up with Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans,” Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolia’s war cry of “Meet de Boys on de Battlefront,” and Rebirth’s street chaos of “Do Whatcha Wanna, Pt.3.”

Yet the beauty of this compilation is not in the predictable but cherished gems hardly needing an excuse to resurface to public consciousness. Following Davell Crawford’s ivory-pounding “Something You Got” and Harry Connick, Jr-Branford Marsalis’ eloquent piano-sax interplay of “Good To Be Home,” Irma Thomas gets the fete airborne with a rollicking live “Second Line Medley” that feature the frolicsome “I Done Got Over,” “Iko Iko” and “Hey Pocky Way.” Walter “Wolfman” Washington funks it up on the aptly named “Funkyard” with hot horns in tow; even with the benefits of modern technology, Marsalis and company sound like something straight out of a ’30s speakeasy. The Nightcrawlers perform a bawdy strutter “Keep on Gwine” while James Booker’s syncopated rendition of Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” bears somewhat of a Tipitina’s feel. And speaking of Tipitina’s procreator, Professor Longhair, he’s here too, cuttin’ it up with “Cuttin’ Out” that was originally a ’59 release on Ron Records. Two more selections hail from Ron’s sister label, Ric Records: Eddie Bo’s best hit “Check Mr. Popeye” and Al Johnson’s carefree swinger “Carnival Time.”

If the Ric and Ron re-released waxings don’t make this collection stand tall among its bin brethren, Jelly Roll Morton’s “I’m Alabama Bound” certainly will. This particular cut, culled from the bountiful Lomax Archives, finds Morton reminiscing about a missed opportunity to go to the 1904 St. Louis Exposition for a piano competition, when lesser talent did. Finally, the collection closes with vocalists emeritus Johnny Adams and Aaron Neville taking it to the heavens with the public domain gospel diamond “Never Alone.” As Neville’s voice floats between the clouds and Adams’ soulful croonings hover closer to earth, a ray of optimism ekes through: eventually things will be all right in the post Katrina era.