This month I’m going to change things up a little bit. Rather than focusing on songs by Louisiana artists or targeting specific areas of Louisiana, I’ve featured outside artists as they set eyes on our state (often with romance in mind). These songs chronicle Louisiana’s place in the past, the present, and the future. Here are songs of lost and budding love, escape and redemption … spanning from the shores of the Pontchartrain to Cajun country.
First we dive into Chuck Berry’s “Oh Louisiana,” off his blues-driven 1971 album, San Francisco Dues, a deep groove about the pestering memory of the home he left for California. After deflated success and failed romance, he has found himself desiring nothing more than to return to the simple life, Cajun cuisine, and Creole magic. Next, the talents of The Band are hit up for a Louisiana- and Acadia-based one-two punch. First they join forces with Emmylou Harris on the stage for 1978’s The Last Waltz to perform “Evangeline,” a song about a woman mourning a lost love; it gently sways through its verses like Spanish moss hanging from a weeping willow. The Band takes the reins again with “Acadian Driftwood” off their 1975 albumNorthern Lights – Southern Cross. “Acadian Driftwood” tells the story of The Great Upheaval and expulsion of Acadians from Nova Scotia from 1755—1764, which led to their exile in South Louisiana and the evolution (through mispronunciations) of the word “Acadian” to “Cajun.”
Violins usher in the next song as Randy Newman sings about the historic flooding of the Mississippi River in 1927. “Louisiana 1927” reflects on the damage and high water in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. With a chorus like “They’re trying to wash us away,” Hurricane Katrina victims couldn’t help but relate to Newman’s words in August 2005.
The love-struck voices of King Creole stars Elvis and Carolyn Jones are followed by the slow-moving anthem that is “I Love You” by Jerry Jeff Walker, kicking into the “love letter” portion of the mix. Jerry Jeff sings to his true love, assuring that what may seem broken and in need of repair can and will be fixed in Louisiana. Then Johnny Cash dips in and takes the perspective of a young lover who watched his betrothed slip through his fingers; now he visits her place of departure, hoping to find his “Dorraine of Ponchartrain.”
The mix settles in New Orleans for the last three songs. First, Tom Waits staggers in with the streetlight serenade of “I Wish I Was in New Orleans” from 1976’s Small Change. Waits’ passionate growl expresses a longing for the city, only to be matched by the sincere ballad about the strength of post-Katrina New Orleans in Steve Earle’s “This City.”
Finally, Randy Newman clasps another link in this mix’s chain of nostalgic and romantic songs with one about his birth and early childhood in New Orleans. Along with all the other artists on this mix, Newman sets out to make Louisiana his own. Whether through meditations on the past or aspirations for the future, each song shares Louisiana, not just as subject, but the reason for singing.
Chuck Berry – Oh Louisiana
The Band featuring Emmylou Harris – Evangeline
The Band – Acadian Driftwood
Randy Newman – Louisiana 1927
Jerry Jeff Walker – I Love You
Johnny Cash – Dorraine of Ponchartrain
Tom Waits – I Wish I Was In New Orleans
Steve Earle – This City
Randy Newman – Dixie Flyer
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