Album to benefit New Orleans musical institution

Album to benefit New Orleans musical institution
January 30, 2010

NEW YORK (Billboard) - By any account, the Preservation Hall in New Orleans made it through Hurricane Katrina relatively unscathed. There was some minor structural damage to the building, which was constructed in 1750, but the venue's French Quarter location helped it avoid any flooding.


But while the hall itself survived in one piece, the musicians associated with it, and the larger New Orleans musical community, weren't so lucky. In the wake of the storm -- and even four and a half years later -- many of them have been displaced and cannot find work. The upheaval also threatened Preservation Hall's Music Outreach Program, which provides private lessons for students who would otherwise be unable to afford them.

When RED Distribution president Bob Morelli learned about the situation after visiting the hall a few years ago, he felt compelled to do something.

"Some members of my staff and I started calling everyone we knew, and we wound up getting six artists to fly down to New Orleans and record with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band," he says.

Those artists started telling their friends and collaborators, and during the next three years, 25 acts recorded songs with the band. The results can be found on "Preservation: An Album to Benefit Preservation Hall & the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Fund," which RED will release February 16.

"Del McCoury was the first artist to record a track," Preservation Hall creative director Ben Jaffe says. "Then Jason Isbell responded, and we went from there. We put together a wish list of artists and just started reaching out. Some of them were artists we'd worked with; others, like Pete Seeger, had no connection to the hall but were musical institutions."

Cory Chisel, who performs the track "Some Cold Rainy Day," heard about the project during a visit to the RED offices. "They had a list of all the songs they wanted artists to do, and I ended up having to fight it out to get what I wanted," he says. To save money, the songs on the album are all in the public domain.


For Steve Earle, being part of the project meant supporting his childhood home, and he went to great lengths to record his track.

"I was touring and having trouble scheduling it, and I finally took a few days on my way home and got it done," he says. "I was exhausted, but all the guys in the band are older than I am. They do two shows a day at the hall, so the only time you can record is early in the day or late at night, and we did it late. The guys just kept going, and it really woke me up."

In addition to the tracks by Earle and Chisel, the album features such artists as Tom Waits, Ani DiFranco, Jim James and Andrew Bird.

But having big names on a compilation isn't a guarantee of sales or success, especially with a limited marketing budget. "We're doing this all on a shoestring," Morelli says.

"All the artists are really excited about this, and they are talking about it with fans," he adds. Chisel says he's doing as much press as he can and plans on selling the album at his merchandise table when he tours. Brandi Carlile, who also contributed to the album, says she has been blogging about the project and spreading the word during her tour.

Despite a roster of artists who may skew older, Chisel says he hopes younger listeners will embrace the record. "There is such a rich history that is still there," he says. "I really want to expose new people to this music."
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