Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Dr. John's Strong Piano Blues

Back in 2006, I had a chance to review together several recordings by Mac Rebannack, aka Dr. John for Jazz & Blues Report. The review appeared in the April 2006, Issue 281 issue. Here is that review. These CDs are available at amazon (although some may be available from third parties.

Sippiana Hericane
New Orleans native, Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, was greatly affected by the destruction Katrina inflicted on his hometown. Shortly after Katrina’s destruction and the breach of the levies, Dr. John and his band, guitarist John Fohl, bassist David Barard and drummer Herman Ernest III, who he refers to as the lower 911, went in the studio and recorded Sippiana Hericane (Blue Note), a benefit recording, the proceeds from which benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the Jazz Foundation of America and The Voice of the Wetlands. This is a somewhat short recording, approximately 26 minutes or so that opens with Bobby Charles’ Clean Water with the heartfully sung plea to “clean all the waters in the world.” It is followed by the four-part Wade:Hurricane Suite, the opening part is derived from the spiritual Wade in the Water. The third part is a slow, bluesy section which evokes St. James Infirmary a little. The Final part harks back to Wade in the Water, although with a message, “Wade in the water, Comin’ back like we oughta ... Wade in The Bayou, Comin’ back and ya know why-o,” delivered against a funk groove. Dr. John and Cat Yellen reworked his Sweet Home New Orleans which he hears callin yet after the levee “Where y’aaat my lil darlin,” as he recounts some of the devastation. A short reprisal of Clean Water closes this very moving disc.

The Legendary Sessions
In addition to this new disc, three discs add to the good Doctor’s musical legacy. Clean Cuts Music has reissued Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack, 1981 solo piano recordings (with a few vocals that often sound off-mike) at a time when he was without a recording contract. A couple years ago they issued The Legendary Sessions Volume 1, which makes available the first of the two albums issued of this material. The present reissue includes not only three selections first issued on the first cd release of this material but also four previously unissued tracks. Among the songs here is a marvelous one for his mother, Dorothy, with its graceful ragtime flavor; Mac’s Boogie, a solid boogie woogie in the Albert Ammons vein; a atmospheric Memories of Professor Longhair, which is a reworking of Longhair’s classic Tipitina; Delicaco also sports a bit of the rumba groove that Longhair favored; while Danse a La Negres is derived from a famous creole composer of the 19th century, and anticipates the opening track of his Going to New Orleans disc; and Silent Night gets a bit of a New Orleans reworking (likely based on the Huey ‘Piano Smith & the Clowns recording); Saints, his individual interpretation of the traditional jazz anthem, and among the previous unissued selections is a wonderful rendition of Careless Love. This comes in a digipak and has a booklet with liner notes and some rare pictures of Mac and his family. The playing on this holds up twenty five years after its initial release.

The Legendary Sessions Volume 2, originally was issued as The Brightest Smile in Town, and that was of the twelve numbers on its original release which I do not have. Included is a blues, Saddle the Cow, that foreshadows Mac’s Trajick Magick, that he performed on Hank Crawford's marvelous Roadside Symphony album; Waiting For a Train, a nice bluesy reworking of the classic by Jimmy Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman; the title track; Touro Infirmary, reworking the classic St. James Infirmary; a medley of Just a Closer Walk With Thee/Midnight Ramble; and his original,Suite Home New Orleans. Newly issued selections include Key to the Highway, Sippiana Midnight and Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu before closing with the Jerome Classic Yesterdays. Both of these are delightful and recommended. I trust that the packaging for Volume 2 will approach if not quite match that of Volume 1.

Right Place, Right Time: Live at Tipitina’s Mardi Gras ‘89
Last but not least is the Second Volume of The Rebennack Chronicles, a series of live recordings from over 600 cassettes that Dr. John has accumulated over the years, and issued on the Skinji Brim imprint that is distributed by Hyena Records. Volume One was the excellent All By Himself: Live at the Lonestar, a performance where he was only accompanied by his piano. The Second Volume is Right Place, Right Time: Live at Tipitina’s Mardi Gras ‘89, and has him backed by his band of the time that included Mr. Ernest III, and Mr Barard who are still with the good doctor sixteen years later. Tommy Moran was the guitarist, Charlie Miller on trumpet and Amadee Castanell on saxophone with Trazi Williams on percussion. This is a lively performance as he opens with a funky Junco Partner, which is followed by the Rebennack-Goffin Renegade during the middle of which he raps about “I like to do what I wanna do anytime I feel like doing what I wanna do, I like to say what I am sayin’ anytime I feel like sayin’ how I want to say it.” There is the Night Tripper classic, Walk on Guilded Splinters, and Travellin’ Mood on which Castanell solos in a most fiery manner. Earl King’s classic Let the Good Times Roll certainly is an appropriate tune to celebrate Mardi Gras and is followed by Louis Jordan’s ballad, Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Willie Dixon’s Wang Dang Doodle and Mac’s Such a Night close out this most entertaining addition to the Doctor’s discography.

For purposes of FTC Regulations, I received review copies the Clean Cut CDs from Jazz & Blues Report, I believe I purchased Sippiana Hericane, and not sure whether I purchased or got a review copy of Right Place, Right Time.

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