If you're looking for a tactile take on Hurricane Katrina from a New Orleans resident, the first four or five songs on After the Levees Broke is a good place to start — especially the opening pair by producer/bassist Benny Turner. The title track samples the sound of helicopters and splashing water while Wright rolls out of bed heralding couplets like “Get out of town/ Death is all around.” And “Katrina Blues” finds Wright laying down the exact date — “It was 2005/ August the 29th/ That's when my world came tumbling down” — against the classic New Orleans musical platter of stalking beat, stinging guitar notes and swelling horns.
Wright is a belter in the tradition of blues great Koko Taylor, mixed with the rumbling testimony of Mahalia Jackson, a combo of influences in evidence on “God's Good Hands” when she keeps her enunciation while boosting the intensity engaging the hand-clapping choir in response to their calls through to the final chorus. Her rendition of the old chestnut, “You Are My Sunshine” proves she's capable of elegant understatement, but is obviously more comfortable (or perhaps just knows where her commercial bread is buttered) slipping into the bawdy, boisterous guise of “Bluesiana Mama 07″ and “Rock Me,” great songs that unfortunately short-circuit the Katrina theme.
Backed by some fabulous musicians — pianist Allen Toussaint and saxophonist and liner note writer Donald Harrison — this could have been a masterpiece with a tighter, more cutting-edge topical focus. Instead we get tantalizing tracks like the closer, a cover of Sam Cooke's “A Change Is Gonna Come.” One might assume it to be a benediction, but where Cooke kindled a campfire, Wright lights her blowtorch and burns through the song, culminating with the gospel affirmation, “Somebody say yeah!” But nobody does — probably the most insightful Katrina commentary of all.