reviewed by Brian Ferdman
The “with special guests” album is typically a loaded proposition. While the guest often adds new elements to the band’s sound (and hopefully increases exposure and sales), the guest also can also disrupt the fragile chemistry of the band, significantly diluting their sound. Thankfully Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s new guest-laden effort does not fall victim to these traps and wonderfully weaves each guest’s sound into that of the ensemble. Band leader Ben Jaffe initially laid out a dream list of potential guests who understand the traditional sound of Preservation Hall, and much to his surprise, everyone on this dream lineup agreed to take part in recording the twenty standards that comprise the excellent Preservation: An Album To Benefit Preservation Hall & The Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program.
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Andrew Bird sets the tone for the album with a rollicking turn on the bouncy “Shake It and Break It.” After opening with such a lively pace, the group downshifts a bit but maintains their unmistakable swing feel as Paolo Nutini deftly warbles through “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” Up next is madman Tom Waits, who leads the band through one of their most thrilling numbers, a twisted, butt-shaking turn on the ancient Mardi Gras anthem, “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing.” With plenty of percussion powering an oddball secondline beat that compels strange movements reminiscent of a hip replacement, Waits applies his unique, guttural growl and guides the ensemble through dynamic shifts while maintaining an incredibly loose atmosphere that has a warts-and-all/devil-may-care vibe. The entire piece crackles with a very live energy, and a similar feeling is successfully applied later on in the album with Dr. John directing everyone through “Winin’ Boy.” The song shuffles, slinks, and grinds before he shouts, “Oh, suffer now, honey!” and everyone erupts into a raunchy burst of sound...
by Grant Britt for Creative Loafing
The Deal: Mind-bending, fonky take on Dixieland by a galaxy of unlikely presenters including Merle Haggard, Tom Waits, Angelique Kidjo, Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle and Dr. John.
The Good: A benefit album to raise money for New Orleans' revered-but-financially-shabby Dixieland homestead, Preservation Hall, Preservation pairs a gathering of unlikely Dixielanders with the strutting rhythms that are the heartbeat of New Orleans. Brandi Carlile roughs up "The Old Rugged Cross" in a manner Levon Helm would approve of: throaty and throbbing, but still churchy. Tom Waits' "Tootie Ma Is A Big Fine Thing," the earliest recorded Mardi Gras song, is a rump shaker that sounds like it was written for and by a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians, with Waits growling over a bubbling cauldron of horns. But it's hard to beat the hometown boys at their own game. Dr. John owns the fonk with his take on "Winin Boy." And even though Angelique Kidjo puts Edith Piaf to shame on "La Vie En Rose," it's N'awleans' own Terence Blanchard's trumpet lead that puts this one high in the Hall's rafters. The guests are impressive – even Steve Earle and Merle Haggard duke it out with Dixieland, but it's the music behind them that carries this show.
The Bad: Needs a warning label: Not your average old coots playing Dixieland. This music is vibrant, powerful stuff that deserves to be heard by a big audience of all generations.
The Verdict: A genre-bending triumph celebrating the diversity of roots music.