Stripe's Song of the Day is a regular feature showcasing the music currently stuck in our heads. Every week, contributors will string together their daily picks, and a playlist of the week's tracks will be available on Friday.
Some cities are larger than life, leaving greater marks on the collective consciousness than their physical reality. The romance of Paris, the chic of New York, the modernity of Tokyo. But the one that calls to me most often is New Orleans.
The idea of the city compels me. Its confluence of ideas and cultures – African, French, Spanish, and American. The spices and flavours of its cuisine. The pomp and circumstance of its parades. And, of course, its music.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, but it’s also fertile ground for brass bands, folk, funk, soul, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, and bounce.
I’ve never been there, but I’ve visited the city again and again in books (Interview with the Vampire), movies (Down by Law), documentaries (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts), television shows (Treme), and video games (Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers).
So, of course I love ‘At the Foot of Canal Street’ - it’s a paean to New Orleans written by two musical collaborators who, one day, discovered that both their fathers were buried in the same cemetery.
The song has the air of an R&B devotional. The opening even riffs on the message of ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’, accompanied by a bouncy piano, Boutté’s smooth voice, and upbeat drums. But my recommendation isn’t for the 2001 original, but the 2010 version Boutte recorded for Treme.
It’s a vastly different take on the song. The bright opening piano is replaced by plodding, mournful horns. Boutté’s vocals, so effortless, silky, and young in the original, strains as he pushes for power and passion. It’s both sparer and more complex. There’s more air to this version, as if it’s been recorded out of doors. The instrumentation is more intricate, pushed further to the fore. And when the drums come in, they beat a marching tune fit for a parade.
Or maybe it’s one of the city’s famous jazz funerals. After all, the New Orleans of 2001 is different from the New Orleans of 2010.
The shadow of Hurricane Katrina looms over the later rendition. Lines about overflowing levees and the disappearance of the Treme and the Vieux Carre are no longer hypothetical. And the singer’s determination to take their final resting place next to their father’s grave as a brass band plays him to heaven seems less a dream and more an iron-willed vow.
Adding more instruments and backing vocals doesn’t detract from the message. It adds to it, turning the track from a personal memoir to an anthem for a bruised community. It is a tribute to the New Orleans that was, that is, and that will be, and the resilience of all their peoples.
This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.