Liz McComb: The Spirit of New Orleans

Take the ethereal splendor of Jimmy Scott, blend it with the raw power of Nina Simone, and you’ll understand the transcendent essence of Liz McComb. The title of her latest album suggests another post-Katrina homage to the Big Easy. In fact, it was recorded in New Orleans in 2001, four years before the devastating hurricane struck, and represented McComb’s dream project: to salute the Crescent City’s deep jazz tradition while simultaneously paying tribute to her lifelong heroine, gospel icon Mahalia Jackson.

Though McComb was nervous about negative reaction to her enrobing a dozen sacred songs in jazz finery, she needn’t have worried. As she ascends from the sweet contentment of “Happy Working for the Lord” and the driving integrity of “30 Pieces of Silver” to the towering zeal of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” (calling forth the grit of Etta James and might of Aretha Franklin) and playful wordplay of her own “The Big Mess,” with horns wailing and weeping, even the strictest gospel purist will find it impossible not to cheer “Hallelujah!”