Wednesday, May 2, 2012


This has been mooted as a comeback for the good Doctor, a return to his gumbo-voodoo heyday of the late 60's and early 70's.  It follows the formula of late-career resurrection projects, as exemplified by Rick Rubin.  Take a star who still has some hip cache, but no hits of late, and match him with a cool name producer.  In this case, it's The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach who wanted the job.  But there's a difference here.  What Auerbach promised was something as good as those earlier Dr. John albums.  He didn't say it would be like them.

So, unlike what Rubin did for Cash and Neil Diamond, and Joe Henry did for Solomon Burke, or T Bone Burnett furnished for Leon Russell with Elton John, Auerbach took a different course than finding suitable modern material in the Dr. John style.  Instead, what we have here is more a pairing of Mac Rebennack and Dan Auerbach.  There are plenty of moments on this release which have Black Keys written all over them.  Auerbach is doing what he does, and knows.  It has that murky blues quality all through, the dark and rural sound of the Fat Possum label of artists, such an influence on modern electric blues.  There are deep, deep grooves, and sloppy guitar solos, distorted to needle-bending levels on the old-fashioned analogue board that surely was used to record this.  In case you're expecting a Right Place, Wrong Time funky number, it's not here.

Not to say the disc isn't dripping with funk, or rather, FONK, as Dr. John makes it.  It's greasy and slippery stuff, dirty grooves all the way.  But where Dr. John has always been about the inner-city New Orleans danger, here he's out in the Louisiana swamp. 

It wouldn't be a proper Dr. John disc without lots of self-mythologizing.  Here the duo make reference to the old voodoo stuff that Rebennack incorporated into his act when he started to break out of Los Angelese in the late 60's, the so-called Tricknology that incorporated the very strong beliefs in spirits and curses that he brought from the mysterious streets of New Orleans.  It's supposedly the sound they were after, or at least the reference, but really it's the aura that has always surrounded Dr. John the Night Tripper.  It helps the hype, of course, as much as the headdresses.  There are some lyrical references, but then there's the number God's Sure Good, where he acknowledges a lot of favours granted along the way.  The spookiness is really all in the mix.

In the end, it's a great pairing, and the Doctor does come off better than he has in years.  It took me awhile to get through the layers, and honestly, I'd like to hear the songs less murky, especially the vocals.  But it has been a long time since Dr. John was as important on the stereo as he still is on the stage, and it is a success.  There are some really good new songs here, no clinkers, and thank goodness Auerbach didn't have him covering Nine Inch Nails or Tom Petty tunes.  This is the sound of a career revived.

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