It’s hard to believe that it has been five years since Hurricane Katrina. The CD release of Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads on New Amsterdam Records is a grim reminder that New Orleans still remains a devastated city, one that has yet to recover from the storm, doubtless at least in part due to all manner of official incompetence and governmental neglect. Source recordings that chronicle the previous administration’s bungled handling of the disaster serve as a jumping off point for Hearne’s scathingly satirical, yet often affecting, song cycle.

The record’s out on 8/31, but there’s a release party at Le Poisson Rouge to welcome the album on 8/24 at 7:30 PM. In the meantime, we’ve got a teaser video:

Ted Hearne – Barbara Bush 9.5.05 from Satan's Pearl Horses on Vimeo.


Here’s CBS News’ take on the city’s condition when President Obama visited last year. I’ve also linked some more recent articles from Slate in the comments section below. While Chris Becker’s comments suggest that improvements have been made, it seems like there’s still a lot to do for New Orleans to fully recover. If Hearne’s song cycle can serve as one of many reminders for us to stay the course and continue to rebuild the city, I’m all for it.

6 thoughts on “Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads”
  1. More links. I wish I could share the photos, emails, and conversations from and with my friends in New Orleans to provide an even fuller picture of life on the ground in that city. But that’s all personal stuff, but let me throw some more links into the mix (these are more nuanced than the Slate articles – but do not pull any punches or attempt to spin a tragedy into something else altogether).

    New Orleans deserves the full picture on Katrina recovery (Times Picayune editorial)

    The pull quote:

    “…some Americans still believe that New Orleans remains mostly devastated and inhospitable. Incomplete news reports have helped create that impression, which has been reinforced by the oil spill disaster. Many neighborhoods that were destroyed by the flooding during Katrina are still rebuilding, and much of the region’s infrastructure has yet to be fully repaired. That should surely be a major focus in the coverage of the storm’s anniversary.”

    “But a full picture should also note the remarkable progress in New Orleans and its metro area communities that were damaged by the storm. In a region where thousands of people make their living from tourism, it’s important that news reports not skim over that progress.”

    Spike Lee’s New Orleans premier of If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise draws a crowd

    Neighbors join in and KaBoom playgrounds appear

    Mayor Mitch Landrieu lists infrastructure improvements that are ready to go

  2. “While Chris Becker’s comments suggest that improvements have been made, it seems like there’s still a lot to do for New Orleans to fully recover.”

    Christian, I hope it’s clear that I am not pitting myself against Slate or the President or your conclusions regarding New Orleans. In fact, I think we’re on the same page. But it’s clear that you and possibly some other people in New York might not be privy to the same information and perspective that I have as a former resident who is close to many people who have and have not returned to New Orleans.

    Is that clear? I’m not sure if I’m being understood here….

  3. Christian I am aware of, regularly read, and welcome good reportage from media outlets like Slate regarding the struggles residents and displaced residents of New Orleans are experiencing. This time last year I interviewed writer musician Ned Sublette and discussed his book The Year Before The Flood which describes New Orleans in all of its extremes the year leading up to hurricane Katrina. So I myself have tried to contribute something to the writing and reporting that is out there. (Ned – who lives in NYC – returns to New Orleans regularly and recently recorded an album of songs down there.)

    What may be difficult for some people to understand after reading the articles linked above or checking out the Times Picayune online every so often is that there has been progress on a number of fronts in that city. And given the scope of the devastation, these positive steps should be acknowledged as they point toward a better future. I’m saying again that painting the city in such broad strokes (i.e. as “still a devastated city”) isn’t accurate and perhaps does a disservice to its citizens who call New Orleans home.

    And again, what I’m offering up in my comments is another spin on Ted’s work which has all the immediacy of an emergency news broadcast but should and can resonate in the form of dialogue that looks beyond August September 2005. In New Orleans, all times are present at once.

  4. “The CD release of Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads on New Amsterdam Records is a grim reminder that New Orleans still remains a devastated city, one that has yet to recover from the storm…”

    I can speak as a former New Orleans resident (where I met and married my wife) and someone who has returned to the city several times post-Katrina to visit, record, and perform music. I also remain close to and in contact with artists and musicians who have chosen to return and stay in New Orleans since 2005. And I now live in Houston, and have met those who were displaced from New Orleans and chose to settle down in Texas (and I’m going to write a little about that in my next Houston dispatch for Sequenza).

    I just want to point out that New Orleans, in 2010, is not a “devastated city” that “has yet to recover from the storm.” In fact, the amount of healing and building that has taken place over the past five years can serve a lesson as to the rest of the country as to what is possible when individuals truly love and invest in the rebirth of a city. I think of the bands and musicians that are there playing their asses off whenever they can. I think of venues for the arts like Ashe Cultural Center, Zeitgeist Theatre Experiments, and the Contemporary Arts Center. I recall the young people I’ve met over the past five years who have chosen to come to and study in a city that will provide them with an educational experience they’d never get in any other part of the U.S.

    I know just as many former New Orleans folks who have chosen, for many different reasons, not to return to their city in the wake of Katrina. And that’s real. But their reasons – individual to individual – are complicated. I hope that Ted’s song cycle will continue to contribute to and inspire more discussion about not only what went down in 2005 (and how one composer reacted to it) but also what has happened since.

  5. This music is way too infectious to be about something so dark. What a disconcerting work!
    Not sure where the “classical” in “alt-classical” fits in, but hot damn it’s good!

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