The most powerful images of Louisiana in recent years have come courtesy of television, either through shocking news reports of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or, more fancifully, the fang-bang fantasies of vampire soap True Blood. Thompson is more interested in the imagery spawned by non-indigenous music fuelled by the geography and mythology of the region.
Part travelogue, part historical document, Bayou Underground never claims to offer a definitive guide to New Orleans or its swampy, sinister surroundings, but instead offers a series of scattergun snapshots, triggered not by local musicians, but by outsiders’ impressions. Songs as diverse as Nick Cave’s The Carny, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited and even 10cc’s Baron Samedi are used as jumping-off points for the author’s journey.
Thompson does touch, in places, on homegrown jazz, blues, folk, cajun and zydeco, but the focus is on the filter through which writers (sometimes thousands of miles away) view the southern states of the US. This neatly illustrates the far-reaching impact that New Orleans continues to have on the wider music community, while many of its original haunts are disappearing. Some of the links may be tenuous, but it’s an atmospheric read that presents many persuasive arguments.