At its most intimate level, music heals our emotional wounds and inspires us. At its most public, it unites people across cultural boundaries. But can it rebuild a city? That's the central question posed in New Atlantis, journalist John Swenson's beautifully detailed account of the musical artists working to save America's most colourful and troubled metropolis: New Orleans.
The city has been threatened with extinction many times during its three-hundred-plus-year history by fire, pestilence, crime, flood, and oil spills. Working for little money and in spite of having lost their own homes and possessions to Katrina, New Orleans's most gifted musicians - including such figures as Dr. John, the Neville Brothers, "Trombone Shorty," and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux - are fighting back against a tidal wave of problems: the depletion of the wetlands south of the city (which are disappearing at the rate of one acre every hour), the violence that has made New Orleans the murder capital of the US, the waning tourism industry, and above all the continuing calamity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina (or, as it is known in New Orleans, the "Federal Flood"). Indeed, most of the neighbourhoods that nurtured the indigenous music of New Orleans were destroyed in the flood, and many of the elder statesmen have died or been incapacitated since then, but the musicians profiled here have stepped up to fill their roles. New Atlantis is their story.