Dr. John is an institution. With his characteristic mystical groovy-gumbo-voodoo schtick and funky keyboard playing, he has been a force in American music since his groundbreaking Gris-Gris in 1968. His early 1970s work, including Dr. John’s Gumbo and In the Right Place were instant classics. A gifted piano (and occasional guitar) player, Mac Rebennack, or Dr. John, became as well known for his spacey “night tripper” persona as for his musical talent. But he is mega-talented and he has never been afraid to stretch the envelope. To get the full taste of just how exotic Dr. John’s music can be, check out “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” on Gris-Gris.
Dr. John has recorded steadily over the years, weaving a tapestry of work featuring the various strains of music prevalent in his native New Orleans. But with his latest release, Locked Down, Dr. John returns to that familiar foundation he laid down in Gris-Gris. With the support of The Black Keys’ guitarist Dan Auerbach, Dr. John has created a work that would fit in well with those earlier works.
There are numerous strong tracks on Locked Down, each of which reveals Dr. John’s penchant for exotic rhythms and eery sound effects. The opening title track incorporates a familiar groove reminiscent of Dr. John’s more mainstream funk of In the Right Place, as does the second track, “Revolution.” But the third track, “Big Shot,” takes the next step into a spaced-out weirdness that at moments echoes Gris-Gris. For a taste of Dr. John’s delicious keyboard work, check out ”Ice Age.” ”Kingdom if Izzness” is classic Dr. John, and “Eleggua” incorporates the kind of rhythmic cool madness that made Gris-Gris so memorable.
With Locked Down, Dr. John proves he is still in top form.
About the author: Bill Wilcox is a roots music enthusiast recently relocated from the Washington, DC area to Philadelphia, PA.