Dr. John – Locked Down, Bonnaroo

So I never did get around to doin’ this, but y’know how things snowball, right? Still friends, the other days flirtation with reviewing new releases in a frankly perfunctory manner reminded me on it. ‘Locked Down’ also got a vinyl release for record store day if you were waitin’ on one and it is indeed the best Dr. John album in a good while. I can’t recommend it to you enough. Auerbach has done a great job as producer by bringing a kinda singular focus to things and it’s all to the good. The Dr’s more recent albums have tended to fill out the full running length of the cd on a ‘hell, why not?’ kinda basis, oftentimes bringing in a wide range of players and exploring a bunch of differing styles. There’s been a sense that the sessions and song arrangements are allowed to stretch out a little too long. None of this stuff is all that bad, hear the Dr play ‘Such a Night’ for 8-odd minutes and you know he can stretch on out there and lose nothing, why not have guests and so on? Too often the result on record has been a little meandering, a little too loose, what works live don’t always make a great recording right? Last time something like this was tried was on ‘Anutha Zone’, the Dr. had played on Spritualized’s ‘Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space’ and the record company saw more sales in reversing the deal. Now, ‘Anutha Zone’ is a good record but you can’t help but think it’d have been a whole bunch better had they let Jason Pierce produce it. Instead he plays on it and various other ridiculous British names are added to the mix, Supergrass fer godsakes, Paul Weller adds an ugly guitar part on account of having recently recordedĀ  ‘Walk On Guilded Splinters’. I’m pretty sure Pierce’s version would have been more sonically adventurous and singular in its feel. Missed opportunity but still, here Auerbach has got hisself in the producer’s chair and pulled off trick. Back when the Dr was Mac Rebbenack he started out playing in a small session band at Cosimo Matassa’s tiny studio cutting 3 min R&B records. (like ‘Sea Cruise’ on the mix back there, he plays guitar, James Booker plays the piano…) Here again a great band plays in a small room and the running time is kept down to a (these days) tight 40 -odd minutes fitting sweetly onto that vinyl edition old school style. The Dr. is mostly playing organ not piano, there ain’t no huge brass sections, trumpet solos or strings. It kicks off with three absolute killer tunes but the songs are great throughout and the man is in fine voice, y’all have probably seen this but here…

Now then, all o’ this sorta kicked off last year at the Bonnaroo festival out there in Manchester, Tennessee. The whole shebang there is named after the Dr’s 1974 album ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’, last year they persuaded him to reunite with The Meters (the band on the album) and play the whole darn thing. Man, I bet that was good, they even got Allen Toussaint along to help ’em out. Y’all can watch it on the youtube there if you want, the sound ain’t great generally.Now, in New Orleans there’s a theory that ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’ is the last Dr. John record and that after that it became a kinda flag of convenience type thing to sell Mac Rebbenack albums. I guess that all depends on how much you feel he was the Dr for a while and how much it was just a bunch of silly hats and hoodoo schtick. Still, it explains or mythologises how he saw out the seventies with a bunch of patchy, poor records, got back to basics with his pi-anner for a couple records that gave his real name equal billin’ and then wandered out into the swamp for a spell. so to speak.

The album itself is just great and it relates to what I was sayin’ about the new one in that it’s a small band playin’ together in a room – The damn Meters who were totally flyin’ at that point – the songs are all 3-4mins long and the whole thing is done and dusted in less than 40. and it is funky as all get -out. They were comin’ off the back of ‘Right Place – Wrong Time’ too which is his biggest ever hit but it ain’t nearly so well known. Apparently record company indifference and a shift in the musical climate were to blame. Still, record has a festival named after it. That ain’t bad goin’ right?

Dr. John – Desitively Bonnaroo


~ by Mumblin' Earl on April 27, 2012.

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