In the days following Hurricane Katrina, the world endured a media monsoon of horrific images in an effort to understand what went wrong in New Orleans. Anderson Cooper asked viewers to steel themselves to accounts of death and destruction because it was our duty to know what was going on. Ted Hearne’s powerful treatise on the disaster demands something similar of its listeners.
By setting media-derived, post-Katrina soundbytes to a dizzying array of juxtaposed musical forms, the composer creates a sonic narrative that taps into the fear, confusion and deep pain caused by the storm and by the Bush administration’s stagnating response. The disc opens with the piercing sound of Abby Fischer’s mezzo-soprano shrilly announcing that “New Orleans is sinking,” her vibrato jarring your eardrums into high alert.
Nathan Koci’s horn takes center stage in track two, which plays out like the day after Katrina struck. A solo horn calls out, as if looking for survivors. The response is frantic, grim, high-pitched. The clash of metal on metal conjures a broken home’s door; a man searches for his wife’s body.
In the next confluence of music and media clips, Hearne deftly continues to retell the story, but now his tone is one of appropriate mocking. George Bush’s infamous “heck of a job, Brownie” remark becomes surreal fodder for lyrics surreal in one tune and in another, Isaiah Robinson’s well cast tenor covers Kanye West’s anti-Dubya rant in notes as piercing as the rapper’s original words.
Compositional feats aside, this is no bel canto. A slew of bleak soundscapes and dissonant refrains marshals so many negative emotions that you may not know if you should cry, scream or just turn the stereo off – kind of like the experience of watching the news right after Aug. 29, 2005. And that’s kind of the point.
Katrina Ballads: “Prologue: Keeping Its head Above Water;” “When We Awoke, It Was To That Familiar Phrase: New Orleans Dodged a Bullet;” “Hardy Jackson: 8.30.05;” “Interlude 1;” “Dennis Hastert: 8.31.05;” “Bridge To Gretna;” “Anderson Cooper and Mary Landrieu: 9.1.05;” “Brownie, You’re Doing A Heck of a Job;” “Interlude 2;””Barbara Bush: 9.5.05;” Kanye West: 9.2.05;” Ashley Nelson.” ( )
Personnel: Abby Fischer, mezzo-soprano; Ted Hearne, tenor; Isaiah Robinson, tenor; Allison Semmes, soprano; Anthony Turner, baritone; Chris Coletti, trumpet; David Hanlon, piano; Kelli Katham, flute; Nathan Koci, horn; Taylor Levine, electric guitar; Batya Macadam-Somer, violin; Eileen Mack, clarinet/bass clarinet; David Medine, viola; Jody Redhage, cello; Kris Saebo, bass guitar; Ron Wiltrout, drums/percussion; Conducted by Ted Hearne.
Ordering info: KatrinaBallads.com