Friday, November 30, 2012

Dr. John-Locked Down; Nonesuch, 2012

The face that stares out from underneath that beautiful headdress is many years older than that featured on the classic, spooky-groovy Gris Gris, but, much to Disaster Amnesiac's delight, the music on Dr. John's most recent LP, Locked Down, fires on the same cylinders, draws from the same (even deeper, now) wells of gritty, funky music. I have had Locked Down on repeat for days now. It's an album that stands up to multiple listens, on multiple layers.
It's really as toss up between which should take top billing here: the Night Tripper's keyboards versus his vocals. I'll just start with the former and say that they are by turns piquant, juicy, spicy, and always always FUNKY. Mac has the full command of his instrument as befits an authentic Jazz player, which he truly is. His playing goes way beyond his sources, though, showing African, Psychedelic, Hip Hop, you name it, on Locked Down. As long as it's soulful, Dr. John's keys are on it. His mastery also shows in the spaces where he doesn't play; this album is a prime example of concision, fully on display from this American Master's playing. All the foregoing descriptions should in no way give the impression that Dr. John's singing/lyrics on Locked Down do not have an equally impressive and stirring effect on the listener. His trademark Big Easy paced hum has aged nicely, displaying a weathered knowing stride. His growl has deepened, become deeper with passage of time. Rebennack's lyrics seem to have deepened, too. They concern perhaps deeper issues than in the past, addressing the hurts going 'round these days, and the Love that transcends and heals them. His admonition "don't trip on loose wires" has felt particularly resonant to Disaster Amnesiac in the post-Election reflections upon the Great Internet Shaming and Insult Culture and its myriad "loose wires" at their keyboards. One can most definitely hear the echos of Hurricane Katrina, of lives lost to the fast lanes, but more importantly to the human resilience born of faith and courage in the face of societal tragedies. The list of blessings on God's Sure Good has brought Disaster Amnesiac to tears on multiple occasions. I'm convinced they'd make even an atheist reconsider.
Producer/guitar player Dan Auerbach deserves many kudos for his work on both sides of those duties on Locked Down. Disaster Amnesiac assumes that he was in charge of assembling the great band for the album, and man, did he pick well. The rhythm section of drummer Max Weissenfeldt, with his ultra crisp cymbal playing and clinic-level press rolls, and bassist Nick Movshon, with his deep, funky bottom end, push and pull the tunes; they achieve the effect of being laid back and moving forward simultaneously, a rare and glorious achievement. Multi-instrumentalist Brian Olive provides tight horn arrangements that add great color on several tunes. The occasional background vocals of the McCrary Sisters add nice, soulful Gospel feels. I also assume that it is Auerbach's screaming guitar solo on Getaway and his savvy North African-tinged sound on You Lie. Additionally, he and Olive play fine, gritty rhythm guitar parts throughout. Auerbach did one hell of a job on this album.
Engineer Collin Dupuis also did a hell of a job. Every instrument is clearly heard, every element emanates from the same warmly mic'd place. The listener is treated to a rich mix that features all of said elements in a fine, funky gumbo.
Disaster Amnesiac has enjoyed the hell out of Locked Down. Along with the obvious New Orleans feel, I hear Stax, Africa, Curtis Mayfield, and 1960's Psychedelic in the mix. If you've not already spent some time with its sublime grooves, it behooves you to do so. Get Locked Down, and you'll probably stay locked down with it for a while.

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