What the Duke of New Orleans -- Dr. John -- has done with his latest opus, N'Awlinz.... is fashion a "symphony" (or "concept album," if you will) paying tribute to close to the ENTIRE spectrum of the music of the Crescent City. Every track has a different guest vocalist or soloist, and most, though not all, are legends of N.O. and else-wheres: drummer Earl Palmer, guitarist Snooks Eaglin, singers Cyril Neville, Eddie Bo, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, and Mavis Staples. There's no grandiose didactic theme (but there is a continuity of sorts), just an staggeringly well-paced collection of songs that run the gamut, from gospel ("Lay My Burden Down"), spooky swamp gris-gris rhythm & blues ooze ("Marie Laveau," "Dis, Dat, or D'Udda"), jazz (a mysteriously elegant and concise "Dear Old Southland," "sung" by trumpeter Nicolas Payton, who doesn't try to sound like Louis Armstrong), blues ("Hen Layin' Rooster," w/ B.B. King and Gatemouth Brown), and pop (the whimsical "I Ate Up The Apple Tree" w/ Randy Newman's downhome, gummy vocals). Musicianship is tight, clean, accomplished, and inspired, the good Doctor's trademarked jolly rasp is still where it oughta be and I just wish there was a bit more room for his two-fisted ivory-tinkling. There are moments where string sections plush and poised as any orchestrations by Gordon Jenkins or Nelson Riddle (or Aaron Copeland) swell and lend a sense of sobriety/gravitas to the proceedings -- appropriate, as "classical" and "symphonic" music are also part of the America's tapestry. But make no mistake -- this album is no history lesson; no, actually, it IS, but like the best schoolteachers/profs you've had, you'll have so much fun you won't notice you're learning something -- this is THE Educational Party Disc of the Year! Essential!!!