NEW YORK (Billboard) - Two years ago, trombonist Glen David Andrews could scarcely look up as he described his months “in exile” in Houston and the Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer he shared with relatives after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his hometown.
“I feel ground down,” he said then. But at last year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, he bounded from the stage, gazed up and gleefully announced, “It’s my time.”
It may well be. Andrews’ renewal is evident on his new album, “Walking Through Heaven’s Gate” (Threadhead Records), which was released February 24. The songs on the collection, mostly hymns, reveal the same fire Andrews brings to street parades and bandstands throughout New Orleans, and they open a window into an important piece of the history that defines Andrews and his close clan of powerhouse musicians -- the church roots of their music.
One track, “I’ll Fly Away,” relates to a particular strand of Andrews’ story within the musical history his CD references.
After he sang the hymn during a memorial procession for a fellow musician in late 2007, he found himself in handcuffs. The charges, eventually dropped, included parading without a permit and “disturbing the peace in a tumultuous manner.” Andrews performed the same hymn in Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary “When the Levees Broke,” changing the final verse to state, “New Orleans will never go away.”
The new album was recorded in concert at Zion Hill Baptist Church (where Andrews was baptized) in Treme, which many consider the oldest black neighborhood in this country. It’s filled with songs that Andrews “learned while sitting in the third pew back.” He gets musical support from a choir and a coterie of notable local players, including three who share his surname: Trumpeter Glen and trombonist Revert (“Peanut”), who lends subtly swinging countermelody to “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” and Troy (“Trombone Shorty”), who, playing trumpet, finds touching communion with Glen David on “We Will Walk Through the Streets of the City.”
“Walking” also reflects Andrews’ collaboration with guitarist Paul Sanchez, formerly of the group Cowboy Mouth, on the title track, an original song. “I heard Glen David’s voice before I saw his face,” Sanchez says. “It grabbed me by the throat and made me listen. He’s got a massive presence and a massive sweetness that comes through despite his troubles.”
The album is available from Louisiana Music Factory, a source of New Orleans music for locals through its iconic Decatur Street store, and nationally through its Web site, Amazon and Andrews’ site.
Sanchez and Andrews have produced albums with the help of Threadhead Records, a nonprofit label created by a group of local music fans who initially gathered informally through a Web site. In 2006, they began organizing raffles and fund-raisers for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic (NOMC). In 2007, they decided to start funding the music itself, beginning with the singer John Boutte’s “Good Neighbor.”
“It was never really our intent to develop a label per se,” label head Chris Joseph says, “just to do whatever we could to support these artists and get these CDs made.” Yet, as a label, Threadhead has begun supporting its projects with local New Orleans performances and print advertisements and label-sponsored industry showcases in Los Angeles.
The formula is simple: Threadhead lends a production budget, to be recouped through proceeds, along with another 10 percent as a donation to the NOMC. According to Joseph, the loans the label made for the first two CDs are 90 percent paid off, including the charitable contribution. Among Threadhead’s spring projects are two new CDs from singer-songwriter Susan Cowsill and an album by trumpeter Shamarr Allen.
“It’s the least we can do,” Joseph says. For Sanchez, who has had a CD and a book funded by Threadhead, “it’s a way to rebuild, one song at a time.”