A working streetcar, a Saints Super Bowl victory and five years later, it might be easy for the events of August 29, 2005 to become a more distant memory for some. But if Dear New Orleans, the new digital benefit compilation dedicated to the Big Easy from Air Traffic Control, is any proof, no one will ever forget that day or its impact.
What makes the 31-song collection such an important compilation is that many of the musicians featured are national artists. The record acts as a love letter from musicians of all backgrounds coming together because at one point, New Orleans touched them and their music.
The talent on Dear New Orleans comes from all divisions of rock and pop, from former Rage Against the Machine-er Tom Morello to New Jersey indie rock outfit the Wrens to singer-songwriter Nellie McKay. Morello adopts his protest singer persona, The Nightwatchman, for “Midnight in the City of Destruction.” The Wrens contribute an all-new track, their first since 2003, in the jangly, hissing melody of “Crescent.” Los Angeles-via-Chicago pop rockers OK Go’s short visit to New Orleans inspired the light-hearted, four-chord approach of “Louisiana Land.” The track opens the album with a shout-out to the late Antoinette K-Doe and sets the stage for songs that may be directed towards New Orleans without being carbon copies of the sound associated with the city.
Hometown artists are featured, including the Paul Sanchez and Shamarr Allen contribution “Don’t Be Sure.” The heart-tugging folk guitar and Sanchez’s warm croon float over Allen’s firefly trumpet. The album ends with six live songs involving Bonerama, but only one, “Mr. Go,” was recorded in New Orleans. The others, which include a dark and bitter version of “When the Levee Breaks” featuring Nicole Atkins and a powerful take of “Kick Out the Jams” with R.E.M.’s Mike Mills and original MC5 member Wayne Kramer, were recorded live in Washington, D.C. in late 2009. The perfect locale for a feverish wake-up call to remind politicians that New Orleans still stands.
Chris Rose’s “Dear America” letter in the September 6, 2005 Times-Picayune promised that New Orleans would repay all the hospitality and generosity the country showed during the city’s time of despair. Five years later, consider Dear New Orleans the antithesis, a musical thank you to New Orleans for its ability to overcome and still inspire.