One of the few silver linings to come out of Hurricane Katrina has been the resurrection of the shamanistic, “Night Tripper” side of Dr. John. Shaken by the tragedy and appalled at the response to the ransacked citizenry left behind, the good doctor (birth name Mac Rebennack) dug back into the city’s spiritual roots and his own early immersion into voodoo mysticism, not nearly as overtly as on his spellbinding debut album from 1968, “Gris-Gris,” but with some of the incantatory and psychedelic elements threading through the alley-cat blues and Crescent City syncopation that have always been his metier.
Last week, Dr. John and his crackerjack band The Lower 911 released their fourth post-Katrina disc, entitled “Tribal.” It’s more sunny and less spooky than his previous two, “Mercenary” (2006) and “City That Care Forgot” (2008), but the All Music Guide correctly tagged it as being “close to a career-defining summation from one of America’s most important musicians.”
At 69, Rebennack hasn’t lost anything from that pinched vocal growl or the strut-and-stroll style he learned from past masters such as Professor Longhair and Willie “The Lion” Smith on how to tickle the ivories. If anything, the travails of the Gulf Coast — to which we can now add the BP oil spill — and the reliably empathetic expertise of Lower 911 members David Barard (bass), Herman Roscoe Ernest III (drums) and John Fohl (guitar) have kicked him into a higher gear. His shows are less schtick and more heritage now. The Dakota has become a regular destination, and it will be a tonic to hear some of “Tribal”‘s 14 tracks be reprised or introduced at the club.
Here is the group performing at a blues fest in Australia earlier this year.
Here is a nice preview of “Tribal,” with excerpts from the disc mixed with Rebennack’s comments.
And for all you folks who want to know what is so cherished about that early voodoo hoodoo, here is a 2009 live version of “Walk on Gilded Splinters,” a song originally recorded on “Gris-Gris.”
Dr. John at the Dakota Jazz Club + Restaurant, tonight and tomorrow night, Aug. 12 and 13. Two shows each night. Tickets are $45-$55 at 7 p.m. and $35-$50 at 9:30 p.m.