May 2nd, 2011
Label: Geffen Records
Catalog No.: B001-4910-02
Formats: CD, MP3
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Music is central to HBO’s New Orleans-based series Treme, now in its second season. The series is named for the NOLA neighborhood where some histories say jazz music was born, and several characters in the drama are musicians by trade or avocation. So it’s natural to release a soundtrack album after the show’s first season won critical praise and garnered enough viewers to gain renewal for a second year.
Soundtracks are typical of TV series today, and music-centric shows are common on the old networks and cable stations. But the producers of Treme went above and beyond, and created a document that can stand with the classic “sounds of New Orleans” collections of yore. Their recordings document a new, post-Katrina New Orleans, battered but proud, slowly mending.
Using the big-budget sound equipment at their disposal, the Treme crew recorded many local musicians in their element, and sprinkled in guest appearances by NOLA stars like Dr. John (Malcolm John “Mac” Rebennack, Jr), Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews). There are also older recordings by Louis Prima, Lil Queenie & The Percolators, and the series’ title song, “The Treme Song,” by John Boutte, which dates from 1999.
The new on-location recordings really stand out. “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” as performed by the Rebirth Brass Band was recorded in March 2009 on the streets of NOLA’s Ninth Ward. Trombone Shorty and his brother James Andrews performed a version of “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” on March 4, 2010 at Louis Armstrong International Airport; their grandfather, Jessie Hill, wrote the song. The New Orleans Jazz Vipers were captured live at the Spotted Cat club performing “I Hope You’re Coming Back to New Orleans.” All of these recordings were used in parts of the series, but here they are presented completely as recorded and with some professional mastering spicing up the already excellent sound quality.
Following is the official HBO trailer “Treme Musical Performances” (most but not all appear on the CD):
As a document of New Orleans music, this album stands with the great Atlantic recordings of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and with the Smithsonian Folkways anthology reviewed previously in Black Grooves. Like the Smithsonian anthology, this is a snapshot of New Orleans, taken through the lens of the TV series producers, and focusing on the music and city recovering and coping with the loss inflicted by Katrina. But, by adding the older material, the album is also showing the seamless continuation of the NOLA musical traditions. The level of musicianship, especially in the street and club location recordings, is spot-on, with the very rare bum note just adding to the spontaneity. The recording quality is also top notch, kudos to producer Blake Leyh, and mastering engineer Greg Calbi.
I recommend the CD version because the booklet is well written and includes short biographies of all the musicians, plus recording details. There’s also an essay by NOLA-based music journalist Larry Blumenfeld, “Treme and the Abstract Truth,” good reading while enjoying the music.
Reviewed by Tom Fine