Local Wire

Various Artists

You'd need a thousand tongues to taste every culture in New Orleans, and a four-CD boxed set with an 82-page, full-color book to appreciate the sundry musical styles meshing within the Big Easy. Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans contains more than five hours of music, spanning nine decades. The musical melting pot overflows with jazz, Caribbean music, zydeco, Latin, gospel, blues, boogie-woogie, swing, funk, and even hip-hop. The songs aren't in chronological order, but mixed together to create a distinct vibe on each disc. The first possesses more of a vintage feel, as tracks by Fats Domino, Dr. John, and Jelly Roll Morton crackle with the spirit of live "one-takes," now an almost extinct approach to recording. The spontaneous soul of the music particularly shines through in "Potato Head Blues," by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven. One of the first jazz recordings to swank improvised solos during breaks, the song boasts blazing solos by both Armstrong and Johnny Dodds. Disc two gets a little funkier, as Galactic rolls out groovy bass lines in tracks like "Go Go," and Buckwheat Zydeco hammers out hyped-up accordion in "Hot Tamale Baby." The New Orleans Klezmer All Stars bring even more diversity to disc two, showcasing the traditional wedding and dance music of Eastern European Jews. Disc three blends the funk-blues of pianist Henry Butler with the red-hot Red Stick Ramblers, a band that fuses swing, jazz and Cajun music into a concoction it calls "authentic Cajun Gypsy swing." The collection comes full circle by disc four, where artists like Ellis Marsalis, Snooks Eaglin, and Mem Shannon lead us home with blues and jazz.

In addition to more great tracks by artists like Clarence "Frogman" Henry, the Neville Brothers, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Fredy Omar, Raymond Myles, Professor Longhair, Little Richard, and the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band, the boxed set includes a virtual passport to the Crescent City -- a big, glossy book containing commentary on each artist and cool little lists like "Seven Great Bars That Are Nowhere Near Bourbon Street" and "Six Places to Eat That Will Make Locals Say 'You Know About THAT Place?''' The book's narrator gives us a personable, enthusiastic tour of the city, beginning with, "Here, take our hand. We'll start on Bourbon Street." By book's end, you'll know all about the buildings in Jackson Square, the Mardi Gras Indians, and voodoo. And by the time the last trumpet sounds on disc four, you'll probably be itching for a visit.