Sunday, August 08, 2004

Dr. John - N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda (Blue Note, 2004)

Dr. John heads back to his old stomping grounds of New Orleans for another foray into music rich with Crescent City standards, voodoo queens, potions, curses and all of the other folklore that makes the city and its culture what it is. This time he's joined by a few special guests on some tracks like Willie Nelson and B.B. King.

All together, it's a pretty good record if a little long, overstaying its welcome by clocking in at over 70 minutes. Dumping some of the tracks especially the orchestral arrangements that bookend the disc would have trimmed the fat and made the music a little leaner, but there are still pleasures to be found here. Dr. John contributes his funky brand of piano (and a little organ too) and sings in his usual congenial growl. The standards are radically re-arranged – it's interesting to hear the Doctor forgo the usual boogie posture and slow "When the Saints Go Marching In" to a mournful crawl. He also enlists the Dirty Dozen Brass band to keep the brass flavor high on "Saint James Infirmary." The collaboration with B.B. King works well, but the one with Willie Nelson doesn't quite fill the bill, with the older country legend sounding flat and out of place.

You get the feeling that Dr. John could play this type of New Orleans music in his sleep, so it would be nice to hear him experiment with the format a little bit like he did in his classic early records like Gris Gris when he was combining the New Orleans tradition with blues, rock and psychedelic music. But until then this provides an adequate summation of Dr. John's traditional songbook.

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