American Legacies sounds exactly like you’d expect a joint album from Del McCoury Band and Preservation Hall Jazz Band to sound. It’s a riverboat full of rhythmically intoxicating Dixieland, blues, bluegrass, jazz and gospel that draws heavily on standards. The project began as a multi-guest collaboration, but profound chemistry between the McCoury clan and the Jazz Band quickly changed the schedule. The traditional, rollicking sound of Preservation Hall is intact throughout, and the album was recorded at the band’s west coast headquarters, but there’s no hiding Del’s mark on the record. The result is an engrossing musical document that brings together two of the most revered entities in American musical history in order to acknowledge two of America’s most important musical styles.
Many of the songs are standards performed in exquisitely familiar ways, like the endearing gospel number “I’ll Fly Away,” the ageless NOLA favorite “Milenberg Joys,” and the country nugget “You Don’t Have to Be a Baby to Cry.” Hank Williams’ rambunctious “Jambalaya,” one of the world’s most perfect tunes, sounds nothing short of iconic here with the entire group cutting loose. The 13 musicians that comprise the ensemble appear together in groups as small as six, as a selected sextet does during “A Good Gal Is Hard to Find.” But most of the album is performed with at least 8 players on any given track, often featuring multiple instances of the same instrument. This overwhelming melodic sophistication gives the whole affair a celebratory feel, especially on upbeat tracks like “The Band’s In Town,” a Jazz Band original that sees all 13 players combine dizzying NOLA street music with mountainous banjo and mandolin runs. The McCoury-penned instrumental “Banjo Frisco” is another original standout, nothing less than a touchstone track for the “hillbilly jazz” nation.
American Legacies also teems with amazing vocal work, whether its McCoury’s arresting call, Charlie Gabriel’s Satchmo-style singing, or Clint Maedgen’s impassioned soul sound. The whole thing is Americana nirvana, and while there’s no denying the authenticity and historical significance of the recording, any listener’s enjoyment of American Legacies is going to hinge on their tolerance for the style. Obviously, bluegrass and New Orleans music fans will swoon, and those with even the faintest sense of history will be as affected by the joining of the two musical forces as they are by the resulting sounds.