Flyin' High (In the Friendly Sky)
Save the Children
These New Orleans stalwarts faced two potential pitfalls on this ambitious, post-Katrina project: First, they decided to update an undisputed classic, and second, they invited a few special guests to assist – both risky propositions, especially coming on the heels of 2004’s terrific, tradition-steeped Funeral for a Friend. For the most part, they emerge unscathed, thanks first and foremost to the enduring relevance of Marvin Gaye’s songwriting. Veteran soul singer Bettye LaVette delivers “What’s Happening Brother,” with deep sensitivity to the lyrics. Ivan Neville joins in on a funky, organ-driven “God Is Love.” And Rapper Guru’s smooth, positive flow fits perfectly in a soulful arrangement of “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).” (Chuck D’s pointed raps don’t mesh as well on the plodding title track. While his anger is certainly justified, perhaps even necessary, he completely overlooks the brotherly spirit of hope and friendship that Gaye’s original so deftly conveyed.) Some of the more successful readings prove that the Dirty Dozen don’t necessarily need guests (or words) to get their points across: the scintillating “Right On,” the mournful “Wholy Holy,” and “Flyin’ High (In the Friendly Sky),” which moves from sorrow to jubilation in a way that is second nature to the proud folks of New Orleans.