Various Artists

Our New Orleans, featuring new recordings by Crescent City musicians, is not only a testament to that city's talent and durability, but also proves that crisis breeds creativity. Irma Thomas drops her familiar R&B in favor of the Joe Henry-produced "Back Water Blues," a gutbucket blues with the singer's spooky vocals undergirded by Doyle Bramhall II's slithering guitar fuzz. For "Cryin' in the Streets," Buckwheat Zydeco downshifts from party to a mournful plea enforced by the leader's accordion swirl and Ry Cooder's inspired six-string surges. Davell Crawford's gospel-tinted "Gather by the River" is a heartbreaker too, as is Dr. John's "World I Never Made," a molasses-slow shot of funk elegance. But hope shines through, with Allen Toussaint's opening "Yes We Can Can"; the second-line rhythms of the Wild Magnolias' "Brother John Is Gone/Herc-Jolly-John"; the Dirty Dozen's raucous, horn-crunching "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now"; and the string-band bustle of BeauSoleil's "L'ouragon." Our New Orleans is an alternately joyful and poignant reminder of all that's worth saving about the Big Easy.
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Philip Booth