Album Reviews

Dr John – Locked Down

(Nonesuch) UK release date: 2 April 2012

It’s in danger of becoming a tired cliché: take one legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame artist and partner them up with a hip young whippersnapper to breathe new life into their work. When it succeeds the embers of a career get fanned and a new generation of devotees warm themselves on the flames. The shrewd partnership of Mac Rebennack (aka Dr John) and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach leads you to believe that very few career revivals will burn as brightly as this disc. It’s such an incendiary and flammable combination that it should be dispensed via a petrol pump rather than a record store.

Auerbach takes on duties both behind the mixing desk and in the studio. Where most releases of this ilk tend to rely on juxtaposition in order to impress (witness the genius of Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails) Dr John and Auerbach’s partnership is a match made in sonic heaven. Rebennack’s low-down dirty swamp blues fuses with the modern pretender to the throne creating a funky voodoo stew that takes in anything from 78 rpm, to funk 45s and all the way to mp3s. This is the sound of two artists working in symbiosis, inspiring each other to create a set with enough funky blues breaks to keep bedroom samplers occupied for years to come.

Doctors are meant to cure infections rather than spark an outbreak of them, but barely a minute into this disc and the contagion takes hold. The title track kicks everything off and well and truly sets up the tone for the rest of the album. The opening ambient swamp sound effects give way to a superb throbbing double bass hook. This opener alone has more ideas fusing together than most other albums can muster over an entire duration.

Revolution follows hot on its heels with a horny hook that brings to mind the Dap Kings‘ work with Sharon Jones and Amy Winehouse, elsewhere Big Shot sees Rebennack cast as a hoochie-coochie dirty version of Cab Calloway playing to a 21st century speakeasy.

Pretty much every track is a potential highlight – Getaway is brilliant and the most obvious appearance of Auerbach’s influence and is something that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Brothers LP. Eleggua is jam-packed with some stunning hard funk voodoo breaks and riffs, each one competing for the Hook of The Album award.

The real trick that this disc pulls off is that it sounds at once familiar, but still constantly surprising. The legions who bought and enjoyed El Camino are sure to enjoy this unofficial second helping and those who yearn for more of the freakier blues of Rebennack’s 1960s heyday are certain to agree this brilliant gumbo is just what the doctor ordered.

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More on Dr John
Dr John – Locked Down
Dr John – Mercernary
Dr John – Sippiana Hericane
Dr John – The Best Of The Parlophone Years