And so I always appreciate art that is invested in a specific place. James Robinson's Starman taught me what it means to be enamored of a city. Paul Sanchez's music (ca. Cowboy Mouth) taught me how to take that sense of hometown pride and show it to the world.
A consummate storyteller, it makes sense that Sanchez would turn to musical theater as an artistic outlet. But it was confusing to me to figure out how to listen to the album. The musical is based on the eponymous book by Dan Baum, which recounts the lives of nine New Orleaneans before and after Katrina. However, the musical is ultimately about New Orleans; Katrina itself is an afterthought.
For starters, I hate musicals. Like, a lot. Songs can tell stories, but when a song only functions to advance a narrative...well, if you're going to awkwardly attempt to fit some exposition to music, you might as well just throw some dialogue in instead. Some of the songs on this album fall into that trap.
So should I approach this as a Paul Sanchez album? What about co-lyricist Colman DeKay and Matt Perrine's arrangements? Or the 100+ lineup of legendary New Orleanians who participated in the album? If not, do I talk about this piece in terms of the story it tells?
Suffice to say, Sanchez's hand is easily seen in the album. His sharp-tongued lyrics and deceptively simple chord progressions are evident throughout, and he is clearly thrilled to play the part of Frank Minyard, the wealthy playboy-turned-crusading-coroner who finds himself with a tough job on his hands after Katrina strikes.
What's most interesting to me is the way each character's genre of music changes as they progress through the years. It's not an attempt to place the monologue in time. Rather, the genre shift signifies (to me) the kind of music the character is likely to be listening to at the time, which is then used as a prism for his or her emotions. The progression is most obvious with John/JoAnn Guidos, a transwoman whom we follow from her Catholic high school years to the opening of Kajun's Pub, a gay bar in the French Quarter (if I have that right.)
In short: I still hate most musicals. But this album is an artistic and emotional feat. If you care about New Orleans at all, its very musical heart is contained within this album -- in terms of style, content, and personnel. You don't want to miss out on this.
(Side Note: There are plans to bring Nine Lives to the Big Apple once the script is complete. I'm hoping that that'll be sometime real soon.)
School Song/Fight Song [EXPLICIT]
Paul Sanchez -- Official, Buy Nine Lives, Threadhead Records