You would think the band's name would say it all. But the Preservation Hall Jazz Band wants to make sure its mission is understood.
So last year, it invited more than 20 friends to the New Orleans home that it terms a "sanctuary" to cut an assortment of jazz and blues standards that beam with irrepressible joy. What other title could the band give the resulting album but Preservation?
The recording is a benefit — released on Fat Tuesday, no less — to preserve Preservation Hall. That means upholding its mission of providing a performance home for aging torch-bearers of traditional New Orleans music as well as its outreach program, which educates younger artists on that tradition.
Preservation enlists varied artists including Tom Waits, Buddy Miller, Dr. John, Steve Earle, Pete Seeger, Angelique Kidjo, Brandi Carlile, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Del McCoury, Ani DiFranco, Yim Yames to sing and celebrate with the PHJB.
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What results is music full of unvarnished jubilance. There is not a single selection out of the record's 19 songs (25 if you include the extras on a bonus-disc edition) that won't put a smile on your face.
Some of these delights are fairly expected. The humid vocals of New Orleans maestro Dr. John are understandably can't-miss complements for the PHJB's muted trumpets and snare drum struts on Winin' Boy. Similarly, employing the regal harmonies of the Blind Boys of Alabama and a suitably churchy organ blast on There Is a Light produces a gospel service so sweaty you can all but see the paper fans waving.
But how about My Morning Jacket's Jim James (using his alias, Yim Yames) singing through a megaphone on Louisiana Fairytale, Andrew Bird crooning like Maurice Chevalier on Shake It and Break It, and Buddy Miller channeling Louis Prima and Hank Williams on I Ain't Got Nobody?
And how cool is Del McCoury, with his high mountain tenor exploring a new shade of blue on the soft-shoe shuffle of After You've Gone, or Tom Waits taking the party to the streets with the Mardi Gras funk of Tootie Ma Was a Big Fine Thing? All are riotous testaments to the traditions that Preservation seeks to honor.
There are two huge surprises. The vocal track from a 1962 recording of Rockin' Chair provides a duet of sorts between the PHJB and Louis Armstrong that bears none of the cheap sentimentality that usually surrounds such posthumously designed projects.
The other is a real stylistic leap: Afro-pop empress Angelique Kidjo takes on Edith Piaf's signature crooner La Vie en Rose, with help from modern-day New Orleans trumpet great Terence Blanchard.
Such is the magic that occurs when innovation, tradition and Preservation happily collide.