Dr. JOHN And The Lower 911 – Tribal 2010

Dr. JOHN And The Lower 911 – Tribal 2010

Blues

To become a genre unto oneself must be the supreme dream of any artist, and it was one realised by venerable New Orleans rhythm & blues institution Dr John decades ago. He is therefore familiar with the other edge of this particular Excalibur: that it makes it next to impossible to surprise your audience, at least short of doing something plain silly, like appearing on stage dressed as a panda, or collaborating with Sting. It is therefore both a compliment and an expression of sympathy to note that, at this point, it is barely necessary to listen to a Dr John song entitled Feel Good Music, as the opening track of this album is: you already know, down to the last exquisite swell of piano and languidly drawled vocal, exactly what it is going to sound like.

And indeed it does, as indeed does much of Tribal – this is very much Dr John doing what Dr John does. Which is no problem in itself, but the really good news is that the peaks of Tribal stand serious comparison with the albums on which his reputation was founded (specifically, his 1968 debut, Gris Gris, and his 1972 New Orleans anthology, Dr John’s Gumbo).

When I’m Right (I’m Wrong), Whut’s Wit Dat and Change of Heart are signature Dr John: big-hearted, sinewy funk, garlanded by one of those blessed voices which seems to find greater depth and range with age (bearing down on 70, Dr John has never sung better than on Tribal, and never more so than on the beautiful string-drenched ballad Lissen at Our Prayer).

There is a lot to take in here – Tribal contains 16 deeply detailed, fidgety tracks ­– but it’s never hard work. It’s a warm, gently funny album – Them suggests Van Morrison with a sense of humour, and Only in America has a whiff of the waspish wit of Randy Newman.
By Andrew Muller.
**
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dr. John made his bones (at least with the national audience) with a spooky, swampy blues / psychedelia / R&B / funk / pop / rock / jazz-influenced musical gumbo that included the originals “Right Place, Wrong Time,” “Mardi Gras Day,” “I Walk on Guilded Splinters,” “Such A Night” as well as covers of “Iko Iko,” “Big Chief” and “Tipitina.” Though Dr. John has never changed his approach or his sound, Tribal (to some) can be considered a return to his roots.

On this disc, Dr. John continues doing what he does best—playing his own hybrid brand of New Orleans “fonk” (as he pronounces the word). As such, Tribal is a worthy addition to his musical canon. It has been said that on the album, Dr. John makes a complete return to his Night Tripper persona (though in the eyes of many he never left—he just kept it lurking the surface). Along with his crack band, The Lower 911—bassist David Barard, guitarist John Fohl, percussionist Kenneth “Afro” Williams and drummer (and co-producer) Herman “Roscoe” Ernest III—Dr. John has crafted a CD that evokes his earlier work in sound, feel and, in many cases, social commentary.

After Hurricane Katrina, Dr. John released the Sippiana Herricane EP (Parlophone, 2005), which grieved for the city of his birth and took the government to task for its lack of action. In 2008, he released City That Care Forgot (429 Records), on which he directed his considerable anger at the White House, the mayor and police force of New Orleans, insurance companies, crooked, thieving contractors/roofers and everyone else who was making money off the Katrina disaster. Though Tribal settles into a more classic New Orleans groove, Dr. John, though nearing 70, does not and will not fade softly into that good night. The songs recall his earlier work while remaining accessible, relevant and political.

The Doctor, whose gravely voice sounds like it was drenched in a bottle of expensive cognac, growls his way through the album’s 14 tracks while the band lays down a rhythmic New Orleans soul and R&B groove behind his funky piano rolls and licks.

This is a very New Orleans-centric CD, both in musical scope and with regard to guest appearances. Political statements (environmental, economic and social issues) abound on the title track (co-written by the late Bobby Charles, the composer/singer of “See You Later Alligator”), which features Mardi Gras Indian chants with a funky blues backbeat, “Only In Amerika” with its Latin rhythms and protest lyrics, the bluesy “Lissen At Our Prayer” (arranged by Wardell Quezergue), which laments the state of the world, and the soul / gospel of “Big Gap” (co-written with Allen Toussaint), which is about the state and inequality of the people’s income levels. The disc also features “Them” (co-written by Toussaint), and the jazzy “Music Came” (co-written by Harold Battiste and featuring vocals by Barard), as well as two other tracks on which Charles collaborated (“Change Of Heart” and “Potnah”). “Jinky Jinx” is a track that sounds as if it could have been recorded in the late 1960s—it’s funky, part African and part American-Indian, with Creole influences mixed in, and featuring equally exotic voodoo rhythms and lyrics.

“Manoovas” (the disc’s hardest rocking track which also features the slide guitar fretwork of Derek Trucks), sounds as though it was recorded back in the day. The opener, “Feel Good Music,” and “Whut’s Wit Dat?” feature the patented Dr. John groove that makes the listener want to jump up and dance.

As with any Dr. John release, the music is upbeat, funky, chunky, moody, spiritual, oozing with a voodoo vibe. In some cases the music as well as lyrics on this disc is angry, dark and moody. In short, it is a classic post-Katrina Dr. John album on which he has resurrected the Night Tripper persona and seamlessly woven him into the fabric of the music.
By Mike Perciaccante.
**
Dr. John- Organ, Piano, Vocals;
Herman V. Ernest III- Percussion, Drums, Vocals;
John Fohl- Guitar, Vocals;
Kenneth “Afro” Williams- Percussion, Vocals;
David Barard- Bass, Vocals;
Derek Trucks- Guitar;
Charlie Miller- Trumpet;
Marcel Richardson- Organ, Piano;
Harry Hardin, Natalia Casante- Violin;
Helen Gillet- Cello;
Lauren Lemmler- Viola;
Donald Harrison, Alonzo Bowens, Carl Blouin- Sax;
Erica Falls, Elaine Foster, Lisa Foster- Vocals;
Charla Herman, Lulu Siker- Chant.
**
01. Feel Good Music (3:22)
02. Lissen At Our Prayer (4:00)
03. Big Gap (4:32)
04. When I’m Right (I’m Wrong) (4:13)
05. Jinky Jinx (3:23)
06. Change Of Heart (3:40)
07. Sleepin’ In My Bed (5:35)
08. Whut’s Wit Dat (4:20)
09. Tribal (6:51)
10. Them (3:17)
11. Only In Amerika (3:08)
12. Potnah (4:17)
13. Music Came (4:06)
14. Manoovas (4:09)
15. Seroungin’ (2:36)
16. A Place In The Sun (4:19)
**

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