Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dr. John - Mercernary (Blue Note, 2006)

Dr. John's latest LP for Blue Note records is a tribute to composer and lyricist Johnny Mercer, who wrote classy pop songs for the likes of Frank Sinatra and others. One of Dr. John's greatest talents is that when he covers the songs of another artist, be it Mercer, Doc Pomus or Duke Ellington, they come out in a manner that is all is own, with a deep Louisiana beat, and the honey drenched voice of someone who has been around the block a few times (and he has - his biography, Under a Hoodo Moon, tells quite a tale.) So the Mercer classics are in good hands here, and the Doctor's fans needn't worry about the man playing it safe, as he adds a hefty dose of greasy funk to the proceedings.

The leadoff track, "Blues in the Night" sounds like it was written with Dr. John in mind and he nails it. The poppier material shines too, it's hard to imagine anyone apart from Sonny Rollins (on the epochal Way Out West LP) making a statement with "I'm An Old Cowhand," but the gentle and humorous treatment here (all instrumental) is excellent, same with "Moon River" which is reclaimed from the jaws of a million maudlin lounge versions. These are the songs of Mac Rebenack's (his given name) youth, and they clearly mean a lot to him. The passion and love invested in this album make this one of the few tribute albums that can be heartily recommended. Rarely have pop and blues walked hand in hand so well.

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