Dr. JOHN and the Lower 911 – Sippiana Hericane 2005

Dr. JOHN and the Lower 911 – Sippiana Hericane 2005


Doing what he does best, Dr. John lays down some serious piano and organ grooves, and his backing trio (dubbed “the Lower 911” in tribute to New Orleans’s hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward) anchors the vocalist/keyboardist expertly, whether he’s navigating through blues, jazz, or gospel passages. In fact, the latter style lends itself to SIPPIANA’s finest moment, the soulful eight-minute number “Sweet Home New Orleans,” which ends with the heartening lyrics “We’re gonna be back; twice as strong.”

One of New Orleans’s favorite sons, Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) came to the aid of his beloved hometown after 2005’s Hurricane Katrina by issuing this thoughtful EP, which benefits Louisiana-based organizations such as Voice of the Wetlands. While clocking in at only 25 minutes, SIPPIANA HERICANE has the potency of a full album, establishing the mood with the bluesy opener “Clean Water” and then digging into its centerpiece–the four-part “Wade: Hurricane Suite,” a composition aimed at providing an air of hope for the devastated city.
Dr. John and the Lower 911 lay out this short (25:25), hastily recorded benefit for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and the Voice of the Wetlands. Musically, it’s Mac in his laid-back mode, but the band crackles a fair bit throughout. The centerpiece of this seven-track set is the “Wade: Hurricane Suite” consisting of the old spiritual “Wade in the Water,” improvised and extrapolated into four parts revisiting the levee breaks, storms, and catastrophes that have visited the Crescent City since history has been written. Mac plays his best jazz piano and organ as it has been influenced by deep blues, second line and old-school gospel and funk. The band, which includes John Fohl on guitar, bassist David Barard, and drummer Herman Everest II, sits tights with Mac’s strolling and sometimes dramatic groove. The tunes are fine though the production feels sterile, too clean for the music, and that’s a drawback. One would have liked to hear this band stretch out more and really click in a rawer setting on the suite because the blues are so prevalent in its construction and ripe for improvisation. But this mini album was recorded in New York and not at home, as has been his wont for a few years now. That’s not to say that Sippiana Hericane is a disappointment, but it’s not fully satisfactory either. The heartbreak and desperation are pervasive, but the rave-up sections don’t quite climb out on the limb or out of the emotional basement either. The dissonance on “Storm Surge,” is wonderful, as each player follows Mac’s lead into some angular yet no less vamp-based playing. The record feels ambivalent throughout, and perhaps it should, because the grief is genuine, but the rage that is touched on here, as well as the hope for a New Orleans that will be back “twice as strong,” feels reined in, and not allowed its full expression.
By Thom Jurek. AMG.
Dr. John- (Vocals, Piano, Organ);
John Fohl- (Guitar, Background Vocals);
David Barard- (Bass, Background Vocals);
Herman V. Ernest III- (Drums, Background Vocals).
01. Clean Water Wade: Hurricane Suite 2:31
02. Storm Warning 3:18
03. Storm Surge 3:49
04. Calm in the Storm 3:28
05. Aftermath 3:40
06. Sweet Home New Orleans 8:13
07. Clean Water – (Reprise) 0:25

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