Marva Wright,
After the Levees Broke
(AIM Trading, 2007)

After the Levees Broke recounts the Katrina tragedy through the personal experiences of Marva Wright, "The Blues Queen of New Orleans." Wright is the lead vocalist on every song, but revisiting this tragedy gave her a mental block from writing most of the music, which explains why the songs are either written by producer Benny Turner (based on her stories) or she is providing covers of established songs like "You are My Sunshine" or Willie Nelson's "Crazy."

While this album is an honest and emotional recollection of the devastation wrought by Katrina, it's far from morose or depressing. Wright finds little ways to inject humor, such as looking for a white towel to signal a helicopter from a rooftop, as if she's leading a second line to rescue. The commitment for survival and persevering is made strongly apparent in her boisterous voice and her rock-solid faith, especially in "God's Good Hands" (originally from the film Hurricane in the Bayou). As if the song doesn't already have the deck stacked in its favor with the amazing Allen Toussaint on piano, a multitudinous choir bolsters Wright's tender emotional performance.

Oddly enough, that inspirational song is followed by a cover of Bruce Hornby's "That's the Way It Is." I just hope Wright doesn't truly ascribe to the inherently pessimistic meaning behind that song, especially the lyric "some things will never change." No one can really blame her for feeling that way, given the devastation she has experienced and continues to witness; not to mention the snail's pace of the reconstruction efforts all around her. However, such a persistent spirit as she is, she hopefully has a more optimistic view of the bigger picture of humanity.

And as this album proves, the people of New Orleans -- especially their musicians -- will persist and keep on going the way they always have. After the Levees Brokehas that classic "N'awlins" mix they've always had: humor, sass, determination and that trademark laissez les bon temps roulez attitude. And Marva Wright shows that they'll keep on having that defining attitude, in spite of this post-Katrina life.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

2 February 2008

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