Various Artists: Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans

Various Artists
Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans
Shout! Factory

Part public party, part secret society, New Orleans is a palpably big and uneasy musical conundrum. Preserved by a combination of poverty, sultriness, and tourism, the Caribbean's northernmost port is still America's most foreign city--the result of a long, hot exchange of cultural influence across the divide between the descendents of African slaves, French and Spanish rulers, Creoles, Cajuns, and Native Americans. Yet the city is also the fabled birthplace of jazz, America's art form, and the not-so-fabled cradle of the rock 'n' roll backbeat, the second-line brass band, and "Back That Azz Up." Only New Orleans could claim to have a musical tradition linking these myriad styles across the decades, with a common sense of joyous syncopation and eating-and-fucking sensuality. That's why this beautifully designed and lustily annotated box set will feel like a bar of gold in a Christmas stocking for anyone who ever got funky like Lee Dorsey.

Except that Lee Dorsey isn't on here. And neither is rapping brass band the Soul Rebels. Or Mystikal. Gilded with the likes of street-jazz groundbreakers Rebirth Brass Band and timeless piano oddball Professor Longhair, Doctors, Professors is also larded with the likes of bland blues rocker Sonny Landreth and jam band Galactic. The four CDs mingle the mighty with the corny, which could be said to express a spirit of inclusiveness, except that it doesn't extend to, for instance, bounce music--the city's unique '90s hip-hop derivative. Selections skew new, and toward songs about the city itself, lending the compilation an air of scene pandering at the expense of definitiveness. (I'll take the liner notes' word for it that Leigh Harris is one of the "most adored vocalists" in New Orleans, but snooze through her track all the same.)

Then again, boosterism and cheese are as New Orleans as riches and art. And there's too much gumbo-spitting greatness here to grumble: You'd have to shop long and hard to collect this box's shouts of exuberance from Boozoo Chavis, the Meters, Jelly Roll Morton, Shirley and Lee, and all the others. Consider this a core collection to build on, one to whet the appetite of a lifetime.

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