Dr. John & Dan Auerbach Get Locked Down
(New York, NY)
With a 2008 Grammy award for “Best Contemporary Blues Album”, a 2011 nomination in the same category and a 2011 induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one could say that Dr. John’s 50+ year career has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance and whereas some music icons of his stature would happily choose to rest on their laurels at the wise ol’ age of 71, the good “Doctor” continues to push himself and his creativity to new heights.
For his latest release, LOCKED DOWN, Dr. John teamed up with producer Dan Auerbach (singer/guitarist for The Black Keys) and created a studio work that manages to pull the New Orleans native away from his swampy voodoo funk roots and yet feel so absolutely like “Dr. John,” that in hindsight, it is hard to imagine a Dr. John album sounding any other way. Aurbach has said that his goal for the album was to explore the sounds of Ethiopian jazz and African pop and though this reviewer is hesitant to say that this album is a pure and accurate representation of those musical styles, it is easy to identify their influences reverberating through its soulfully mellow and classic R&B-laden grooves.
Just as Auerbach has managed to do with The Black Keys’ recent chart-topping studio efforts, he has successfully infused LOCKED DOWN with a sound that magically straddles the line between wonderfully retro and unmistakably modern. Some listeners may find the album’s persistent use of mellow medium tempo grooves a tad redundant, but the quirky hooks that breakup the musical monotony are easily worth the price of admission. They infuse this latest Dr. John studio effort with shades of everything from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins-like R&B and 1970s-style soul-fueled funk to Mulatu Astatke-esque Ethiopian Afro-jazz; amounting to a totally worthwhile listening experience that feels completely fresh and yet so comfortingly familiar.
Though it’s not a “concept album” in the traditional sense of the term, LOCKED DOWN’s mood and sound are so tightly woven through each track that it does feel like a complete work whose parts, despite their individual strengths, may never be as satisfying on their own as they are as a whole and though most fans may never get a chance to hear all of these songs performed together live by the original musicians that recorded them, recently a few lucky New York City audiences did…and it was fantastic.
As part of a three week residency at New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music called “Dr. John: Insides Out,” the piano-playing front-man pleased enthusiastic concert-goers with performances that varied in theme from a tribute to Louis Armstrong to an “all-out celebration of music from the Big Easy.” From April 5th-7th Dan Auerbach and the band that recorded LOCKED DOWN in the studio, took to the stage and presented the album live and its entirety…with a few classic “Night Tripper” gems thrown in for good measure.
Dr. John, surrounded by a barricade of keyboards that varied from a grand piano and a Hammond B3 to a Fender Rhodes and a Farfisa, delivered a performance that was subdued and relaxed. Aside from the occasional (and few) moments where he took to his feet for a smattering of shuffling dance steps (which made the crowd go wild), the consummate musician stayed focused on the music; leaving much of the technical heavy lifting to Auerbach…who served (strictly) as the band’s guitarist and leader.
Stage banter was kept to an absolute minimum and it became very clear, fairly early on, that the NYC audiences that filled BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House (for three consecutive nights) were not in store for a rollicking rock and blues show, but instead a recital of a music legend’s latest work. The band was tight and the song arrangements were kept to a fairly precise structure that strayed very little from what was presented on the album. There were no extended jams or solo, but the talent of the extraordinary band and the strength of the material kept the audience at attention and the entertainment value at a peak.
Past Dr. John compositions like “Mama Roux,” “Jump Sturdy,” “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” (all from his solo debut GRIS,GRIS) and the beloved “Such a Night” padded the 90 minute sets and helped insure that these performances would be ones to remember for a very long time.
If you enjoyed this article, checkout The American Blues News’ review for Dr. John’s TRIBAL.
NYC blues fans, check out J. Blake at www.jblakeblues.com.
Copyright © 2012 – J. Blake. All Rights Reserved.