In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Chris Thomas King issued perhaps the finest of blues recordings dealing with that catastrophe. I reviewed his album Rise (21st Century Blues Recordings) in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288) which I reproduce below. This CD, which I purchased, is still available.
Chris Thomas King, the Baton Rouge born son of Tabby Thomas, has issued a most impressive recording reflecting on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that was recorded at several locations. From the opening What Would Jesus Do? to the closing What a Wonderful World, Thomas interprets some classic songs associated with New Orleans along with originals that cover a wide range of musical styles, although not the incorporation of hip hop that he has utilized on other recent recordings. Thomas is in an almost traditionalist mode here. The CD was recorded at a number of locations and tracks include several on which Thomas plays all the instruments along with several musicians including Mike Finnigan and Tony Braunagel of the Phantom Blues Band on several selections, and drummer Jason Marsalis on the closing What a Wonderful World.
There is some country flavor to the opening What Would Jesus Do? as he sings “Tell Me America, What Would Jesus Do (2x) If he had to walk a mile in my shoe” with its haunting lyrics. There is a bit of modern gospel-soul flavor in the backing for Faith told from the standpoint of someone on a roof-top waiting to be saved as a deceased neighbor floats on by and how we need to have some faith in one another. Baptized in Dirty Water is a modern electric guitar blues as he powerfully shouts in the manner of a young Buddy Guy or Otis Rush (and the song suggests Rush’s I Can’t Quit You Baby.
On the wistful Flow Mississippi Roll, King sings about having no place to go and wanting to drown on my own tears as a businessman is making plans for his land. St. James Infirmary is handled as a modern blues with more fine guitar as King updates the lyric with his asking when he dies for six gamblers to carry his coffin, six chorus girls to sing his song and put a good jazz band on my tailgate to raise hell as we roll along.
Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, I believe was recorded a few days before Katrina in New Orleans, and Thomas’ performance makes the lyric “Don’t You Know What You Got ‘Til Its Gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” prescient in terms of the destruction of wetlands that helped contribute to Katrina’s devastation. Its not the only tune that is so in place even if not directly alluding to Katrina, as does the gospel number Deepest Ocean. His rendition of the Irish ballad, ‘Tis Last Rose of Summer, a tribute to his mother, is full of warmth and tenderness as is the rendition of the closing chestnut, What a Wonderful World.
Rise is a remarkable recording that transcends any limitation of genre. Heartfully sung and played with an eye to the losses he and so many others have suffered yet he also has an eye for that part of the human spirit that enables people to work together to overcome such traumatic and devastating natural disasters.