Various Artists

Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens (Shout! Factory)

Jan 12, 2005 at 4:00 am
Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens doesn't aim to be a mere survey of Crescent City music, let alone a definitive one. Rather, this four-disc collection wants to convey the vibe of the city itself; it wants to be the next best thing to being there, a Big Ol' Box of New Orleans right there in your own home.

Many of the set's 85 tracks celebrate everything about the city, from the French Quarter and Mardi Gras to local cuisine and the insufferable summer heat. But much of the music appeals to the primary tourist appeal of N'awlins: partying. The overall compulsion to, as Anders Osborne describes, get "Stoned, Drunk, & Naked."

And the good times roll, with groups such as the Wild Magnolias thundering through "Party" like a go-go band caught in a herd of stampeding buffalo. Still, there's limited appeal to hearing someone else go on about how fucked up he got the weekend you had to work or about some out-of-this-world plate of red beans and rice that you'll never taste. What we want from art isn't just vicarious experience but also actual emotional connections of our own.

The best songs push more universal buttons -- Aaron Neville cooing "Tell It Like It Is," Huey (Piano) Smith spreading "The Rockin' Pneumonia & the Boogie Woogie Flu," Fats Domino insisting "I'm Walkin'" or Ernie K. Doe bitching about his "Mother-in-Law."

Doctors, Professors includes examples of almost all of the music born in the Louisiana region -- hot jazz on down to Cajun and zydeco -- as well as the countless styles it has nurtured, from R&B acts such as the Neville Brothers to rock-&-rollers such as Lloyd Price to funketeers such as the Meters. But the focus is on an infectious and undeniably New Orleans rhythm -- this box set is nothing if not one long series of insanely proficient and raucous rhythm sections -- that connects most of these native sounds, more often than not, with a piano. It's to New Orleans, after all, that we owe that long line of piano-based acts that once dominated American pop music -- Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Dr. John -- but have since been supplanted by guitar heroes and turntablists. All of those New Orleans acts, with the possible exception of Little Richard, were also capable of playing it cool, no matter how blisteringly their bands performed. Each artist here conveys an infectious ebullience that doesn't rush and worry through life when problems arise so much as it simply strives to smile, change into a fresh shirt and float back out into the steamy, bouncing night.