New York and Los Angeles have generated large chunks of American popular music since the dawn of the phonograph, but both cities are so large and diverse that neither has really had a "sound." The styles that formed the foundation of American music sprung up in the middle of the country, in Chicago, Kansas City, Nashville, Memphis, and Austin. And then there's the strange case of New Orleans. The city's dominant sound since the '40s has drawn equally from black spirituals, French café ballads, and hillbilly stomp. The quirks of that style have spawned Dr. John, The Meters, BeauSoleil, The Radiators, The Neville Brothers, Buckwheat Zydeco, Clifton Chenier, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Allen Toussaint, and Professor Longhair with fervent cult audiences, but limited mainstream success. Only Fats Domino, Louis Armstrong, and Louis Prima have leapt from New Orleans clubs to superstardom while hanging onto their hometown roots.
Prima doesn't appear on the new four-disc box set Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box Of New Orleans, but Domino, Armstrong, and the other acts above make appearances. Between the set's 85 tracks and its 80-page booklet, The Big Ol' Box offers an illustrated history of a music scene more unified than that of any other American metropolis. The songs tell the story: "Iko Iko," "Jambalaya," "Salée Dames, Bon Jour," "Let The Good Times Roll," "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?," and should've-been-standards like Lil' Queenie & The Percolators' "My Darlin' New Orleans." They all mix up R&B and odd ethnic strains with nonsense words, jaunty accordions, and growly vocalists inviting listeners into an exotic world of joy and danger. The Big Ol' Box shifts seamlessly through jump blues, jazz, and rock, and almost all of these songs share a theme: revelry, but at a cost yet unknown.
Contemporary singer-songwriter C.C. Adcock comes from nearby Lafayette, Louisiana, and on Lafayette Marquis, Adcock positions himself as a vital heir to his home state's musical tradition. Utilizing a snaky roots-rock sound that owes a lot to Peter Case, Steve Forbert, and Tom Petty, Adcock rumbles through loose, guitar-driven songs with Creole accents and hip-hop-inspired titles like "All 4 The Betta" and "Slangshotz N'Boom-R-Angz." The style comes together best on "Runaway Life," where woozy fiddles and Adcock's absent rasp enhance the story of a restless man who can't seem to leave home. It's as Louisianan as its opening line: "Hey ya ya."