Treme It Like You Mean It
The box set comprising the entire second season of Treme had been lying on my bedside table for months without being watched. One reason for that was, of course, time. Watching a box set can become an addiction and even if you start by watching the first couple of episodes, before you realise it, you’ve spent the entire night, eyes glued to the television screen, watching the entire truckload of episodes and, in effect, killed any prospect of functioning normally at work the following morning.
The other reason for not breaking open Treme’s second season box was very different: not too many people in my household find the storyline of Treme – how different individuals in New Orleans were coping after Hurricane Katrina destroyed and upended their lives, livelihood and relationships – as compelling as I do. I loved the first season. And finally, after an endless marathon Diwali day bout of watching the second season, I have resolved to acquire the box set of the on-going third season, which I am sure will be available once that season is over.
One of the main components of Treme – as also of my reason for liking it – is the soundtrack. New Orleans is all about music and, as I had mentioned in an earlier column (see Download Central, April 8, 2012) where I’d written about the soundtrack of the first season, music plays a very important role in the storyline of the series. Many of the protagonists, including the main character in the series, trombonist Antoine Batiste (played by Wendell Pierce), are local musicians. Having visited the city a couple of times and interacted with a few of the local musicians, I have a soft spot for New Orleans and, of course, for the music of that most un-American of American cities. And Treme is full of that music. In the soundtrack of the first season, there are performances by and recordings of local brass bands, R&B and soul musicians, and blues and Cajun bands.
The soundtrack of the second season is even better. There’s Galactic and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, two of the city’s bands that have national and international popularity. Those familiar with Galactic’s funk and jazz jams know how lively that New Orleans band can make things once they get going; and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band tweaks traditional New Orleans brass band music by adding bebop and funk into it. In their nearly 30-year career, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has also collaborated with a variety of other acts, including English singer-songwriter Elvis Costello, jam-band Widespread Panic and American indie-rock band Modest Mouse. On Treme 2, the band plays with Galactic on the funky track, From the Corner to the Block (off Galactic’s 2007 album with the same name).
Other well-known New Orleans musicians feature on the soundtrack – Dr John, whose latest comeback albumLocked Down (produced earlier this year by Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach) is a brilliant piece of work; The Radiators, a New Orleans band with a bouncy R&B and rock-infused sound that is their unique trademark; and Kermit Ruffins, the affable and fun-loving trumpeter whose shows often end with him hosting a barbecue for his audience.
Even though I was familiar with these and a few others, such as The Rebirth Brass Band and Steve Earle, the Texas musician who straddles many genres, including folk and American and rock and roots (Earle even acts as a street musician who gets shot in the series), there were quite a few new intros I got to people I hadn’t heard before. The Iguanas are a band that plays on the Treme 2 soundtrack and although they’re from New Orleans, their music has big Latin influence. You could say it’s Latino music with a New Orleans’ groove and, as the track they play in the series, Oye, Isabel, demonstrates, it makes for a heady blend.
The other musician on Treme 2 that I discovered (and I wished I’d done so many years earlier) was the city’s pianist, Henry Butler. Blind from glaucoma, Butler follows in the tradition of his city’s great jazz pianists (James Booker, Jelly Roll Morton and so on) and is known for his versatility. His piano on Mama Roux, a Dr John track is wonderful.
Among the other discoveries there were: The Subdudes, a rock band that fuses folk with R&B and Creole music such as Zydeco and who instead of a drummer and percussionist, use a tambourine; Jon Cleary, a British born but New Orleans settled pianist and funk musician; and Tom McDermott, also a pianist but in jazz and one who’s also a music journalist.
So, all said, I had a good Diwali – a long-pending run of Treme’s entire second season, which was a chance to get back in touch with a city that I like very much with the additional bonus of great music from there.