The musical numbers are a divisive component of HBO’s Treme. On one hand, they’re essential. When a show’s about the centrality of culture in a community, you’ve got to see the culture in action. They’re what the show’s about, but television caters first to the ADD-afflicted among us, so we’re not used to shows pausing for a minute-long musical moment that advanced the story as much as would in its first 15 seconds.
Taking the songs out of context for this album is a mixed blessing. Some songs stand up better. The stiff set-up for Galactic and the Soul Rebels’ “From the Corner to the Block” with Juvenile in the season opener made the song seem stiff as well. Here the sound of 10-or-so instruments is a little murky, but the deep, loping bass is undeniable. The subdudes’ “Carved in Stone” scene bothered me when it appeared because Lucia Micarelli’s Annie was supposedly touring as the band’s opening act at a point when it wouldn’t have carried its own opener, much less one that didn’t have original material. The song, though, stands beautifully on its own, and is a reminder of how special Tommy Malone’s voice can be.
“Carved in Stone” is followed shortly on the album by “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most” (with David Torkanowsky) and “Heavy Henry” (with Tom McDermott and Evan Christopher), and the three testify to Micarelli’s talent on the violin. She had a sad sack season as she struggled to write her own songs, but each of these pieces is very different, and she shines equally and in different ways in each one.
Some tracks could use context. Al “Carnival Time” Johnson’s appearance had more impact as part of Wendell Pierce’s Soul Apostles story, and since DJ Davis and the Brassy Knoll wasn’t supposed to be a really good band—at least by New Orleans’ standards—it’s a comedy moment on a musical album.
I wish the rap storyline was better represented, but what’s here is a fair depiction of the dominant musical values in New Orleans in 2006 as found on Frenchmen Street. Most of those values are still in place, as are most of the artists. The show may depict tough times in our past, but the CD reminds us how much positive endures.