Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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VARIOUS ARTISTS
Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: Big Ol' Box of New Orleans
Shout! Factory

Four uneven discs show that New Orleans music, once weird and great, has turned safe and dull

This box wasn't assembled by the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, but it might as well have been. Like the modern-day Big Easy, it trades on the city's status as a musical wellspring to showcase professional revivalists running rampant. Ignoring chronology, it mixes classic polyphonic jazz, irresistible piano R&B, and seminal proto-funk with Cajun and zydeco and overrated contemporary locals of every provenance and stylistic orientation. Sure there are great tracks few non-experts have heard--Dave Bartholomew's "Shrimp and Gumbo," Balfa Toujours's "Marshall's Club." But they're overwhelmed by pleasantly ordinary ones that make it a labor to find the gems. And the Crescent City's most original contemporary musician is totally absent: Mannie Fresh, back your azz in here.

Blender, Nov. 2004