David Roe: Survivor of the streets




Angel of New Orleans
David Roe
Royal Rags Records, New Orleans

If you are wandering New Orleans' French Quarter streets, you will likely come upon what seems to be a statue of an angel, all in white and with chalked face and hands. She stands stock-still until someone drops a donation in the cup at her feet. The angel then moves and, ever so gently, offers a smile for all to enjoy.

The angel is just one of the many street performers that grace the French Quarter and offer a taste of the city's unique culture. David Roe and his juke joint piano is another.

The city government of New Orleans has tried many times to shut the street performers down, even though they are one of the main tourist attractions there. It has something to do with permits and fees and who you know. Everything is not always logical in the Crescent City. But to date, the street musicians are still alive and playing every day. David Roe is one of the most prominent.

I first saw Roe playing his piano in the middle of a side street. He had gathered quite an audience when some guy in a hurry began to honk his horn to get past. Roe reluctantly left his piano stool and walked over to the impatient fellow's car. A few quiet words were exchanged and the guy backed up down the street. The crowd cheered and the piano music resumed.

Things often work out fine if you give it enough time and don't panic — that's the message of this warm and joyous CD from Roe and friends. It celebrates the near-miracle of Roe's survival, alongside Laura (his wife), in a fiery Illinois train derailment. The CD's sales benefit the rescue agencies who saved the Roes' lives.

A great cause, but it's the music that makes this CD worth having. Recorded live in New Orleans last November, Angel of New Orleans mixes trad jazz, ("When You're Smiling", "Bye Bye Blues") with New Orleans folk ("City of New Orleans").

The effect is very nice. Roe's brass band includes 72-year old cornet legend Jack Fine, augmented by bluegrass fiddler Tom Nuendel and Jim Hancock's mandolin for a very unique flavour. Great vocals and piano by Roe and a carnival atmosphere will have you up on your feet and dancing, with a smile. A fun record.

[Bill Nevins is a resident of Albubuerque, New Mexico. He has written on Irish politics and cultural topics for a number of progressive publications.]