It’s hard to imagine there’s anything the Preservation Hall Jazz Band hasn’t accomplished in its long life. The group, which was founded at the renowned Preservation Hall in New Orleans, has spent five decades preserving local music traditions while creating a few of their own, thanks to an influx of younger musicians bringing new ideas. As a result, the Jazz Band has become a local institution and one of the hottest acts in the city. Despite the fact that it’s cramped and un-air-conditioned, most nights Preservation Hall turns away more people than it admits.
One thing the Jazz Band has somehow never done is release a full album of original compositions, but their latest, That’s It!, checks that off their to-do list. Nothing here sounds obviously new: These 11 rousing tracks are so steeped in local technique that they could believably pre-date the band. Tinges of gospel (“Dear Lord (Give Me Strength)”), vaudeville (“Rattlin’ Bones”) and speakeasy jazz (“I Think I Love You”) suggest the form’s infinite malleability. The piano ballad “Emmalena’s Lullaby” exudes an easy sentimentalism, as though it had been played at the end of the night at French Quarter pubs for a hundred years.
That’s It! was recorded at the Preservation Hall and produced by Jaffe and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, which explains its eccentric acoustics as well as its lively pace. In other words, these songs nod to tradition but possess too much energy and idiosyncrasy to succumb to Big Easy nostalgia. Instead, That’s It! makes a highly persuasive case for New Orleans jazz as a modern and still very lively strain of roots music.