by Dr. John
Released: 02/04/2012 | Label: Nonesuch Records |
Alarm bells the size of The Hindenburg went off when I read that Black Keys swinger Dan Auerbach would be in charge of twisting nobs in the control room on the latest Dr. John morsel. Not because I doubted for a second the man's ability, nor his aesthetic sense, his prowess behind a mixing desk, his knowledge of Dr John's early material. It was more to do with that impending notion that somehow Dan might try to bring Mr. Rebennack into the 21st century in terms of sound, or Black Keys-ify an already cemented stalwart in the campaigns of entertainment.
Thankfully my fears were unfounded. Partially.
With over 20 albums under his belt, it seems an odd time to call on a young renegade to help figure out your next move. Iconic albums such as Gris Gris just ache with their timelessness, the songs wrapped in the hazy voodoo lashings of yesteryear. Pre-Katrina by decades, songs about incantations, biblical prophecies, witchdoctors of famed reputations, shamans, drugs, fire, and of course the apple of his eye: New Orleans, before parts of it were left uninhabitable perhaps for the next century.
With Locked Down Dr John seems to have one foot in the present, and one firmly planted in 1968. The production work is seamless. Clean, precise, and yet at the same time allowing Dr John´s skewed funk n roll to seep out and baptize us all in the infectious grooves (This has a lot to do with the Black Keys-ish drum sound, that huge pounding bass drum rollicking all in its path). You wouldn´t be far wrong to think this a re-release (although re-mixed as well) of tracks that never made it onto Gris Gris or Babylon, such is the essence of the recording, steeped in a time gone by. However the songs are absolute mustard.
I was playing the record at a bar in Sri Lanka the other night and an American tourist actually asked me if it was the Black Keys. I informed her "no", she said "oh, it just sounded like them, thats all!". Slightly taken aback, and yet appreciative of the error, I started listening to the album again in a different way. And it seems my initial impression of Dan keeping his fingers in his pants and not smearing too much of his own sound onto the record may have been false. Perhaps he did sway things a little more into his own territory, but with these results it was probably the thing to do. The songs deserve the production, the great sound, the funkiness just ekes and spills out onto the dance floor with it's mystic rattling vortex sounds.
Like all things in life, this record will also be mentioned in the same breath as the Black Keys. A symptomatic excess of our times. The true hero here is Dr John. Let's not forget that. Whatever Dan managed to pull off in the studio is testament to the mans ability, but the true hero here, and the person that deserves all the praise is Dr John. Locked Down will pop out in the ever increasing shelf of Dr John records that one accumulates through the trials of life. It is not his best record ever, but it might just be one of his most refreshing.
Highlights: Locked Down, Big Shot, Kingdom of Izzness.