The good doctor uncovers sprawling, mysterious history of his native city
Dr John, alias Mac Rebennack, aka Dr John Creaux, trading as the Nite Tripper, is no stranger to the Babylonian riddles of New Orleans. This Big Easy native has never been one to cause a local hurricane, but he’s always blown his storm warnings in a weird way. A medicine man with an innate knowledge of the voodoo cultures of Louisiana, as Rebennack approaches his seventh decade he’s still dispensing the knowledge without sounding drily academic.
So what’s up, Doc? Plenty. Grand funk, slippery R&B, gumbo groove and French Quarter jazz are staples of his armoury again, yet he also chases down draughts of lifeblood like a Garden District dweller in an Anne Rice vampire novel. Having paid homage to Duke “Elegant” Ellington and rubbed shoulders with younger British types Supergrass, Paul Weller and Spiritualized on his last two discs, this musical polymath sets his sights on a sequence of 18 pieces whose roots spread out forever.
Aided by Stewart Levine of Crusaders fame and various musicologists such as Martin Kaelin, Nicholas Payton and the Quezerque dynasty, the album opens in Sunday church mode with the baroque litany of “Quatra Parishe”, before returning “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In” to its spiritual rather than vaudevillian setting.
“Marie Laveau”, an account of the Witch Queen of New Orleans, bears out Rebennack’s dictum that “music is to be played with, not just played.” As a battery of percussionists?including Earl Palmer, Herman Ernest III and Smokey Johnson?all summon the spirits, they are answered by the Mardi Gras Indians, Meter man Cyril Neville and Walter Wolfman Johnson’s greasy guitar solo. The pure fonque of “Life is A One Way Ticket” and the neat twists and turns of “Such A Much”, featuring fellow veteran Willie Nelson, both loom large, but there’s good stuff everywhere thanks to guests like Randy Newman, Mavis Staples, BB King and Dave Bartholomew.
Ambitious in scope, Dr John’s N’Awlinz cannot be digested at one sitting. This is a banquet of bluesiana; a lifetime of sounds. If you love New Orleans music, he’ll take you there. Magnificent.