Music Reviews
3:10 pm
Tue April 3, 2012

Dr. John: Swamp Grooves From The Bayou Underworld

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 10:41 am

Right now, Dan Auerbach is living a rock-star moment, with his hard-hitting blues-rock duo The Black Keys selling out arenas all over the country. Lots of people want him on their records. So what does he do? He seeks out the 71-year-old Dr. John, and persuades him to return to the spooky, percussive swamp grooves of his first records. The result is the new album Locked Down.

Those early Dr. John efforts were not big sellers, and within a few years, he had streamlined his sound into a sly, funky, much more accessible party. But over time, the early records have earned a special place in the hearts of music obsessives like Auerbach. Stirring together rock, New Orleans R&B and hints of Africa and Cuba, they evoke a distinct bayou underworld. When Auerbach met with Dr. John, he talked about the thick atmospheres of those records and suggested that they assemble some lightning-quick young musicians and go exploring in that direction.

For nearly two weeks, Dr. John and Auerbach's crew engaged in a kind of musical time travel. Dr. John played piano or organ — at this stage, they didn't worry about vocals. They chased old-fashioned New Orleans rambles, funk chants and whiplash-inducing gospel-jazz.

Auerbach says Dr. John went home with the instrumental tracks and returned several weeks later with a bunch of ideas: phrases, poems and fragments of verses that expressed bitterness and frustration over the current economic situation. That's a popular theme right now, and Dr. John approaches it like a wary — and wily — skeptic, slipping hipster jive and Beat-poet imagery into songs about greed and indifference.

It's tempting to describe Locked Down as a return to form. That doesn't quite get it. Incredibly, in the few weeks they spent creating this, Dan Auerbach and Dr. John roused some spirits not heard from since the late '60s, and got them to speak about what it means to be alive and kicking in 2012.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally, this hour, new music from New Orleans musician Dr. John. His new album is called "Locked Down." It's a collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the blues rock duo The Black Keys. Music critic Tom Moon says together with this much younger musician, Dr. John has revived his own early sound from the 1960s.

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Right now, Dan Auerbach is living a rock star moment. His hard-hitting blues rock duo The Black Keys are selling out arenas all over the country. Lots of people want him to be on their records. So what does Auerbach do? He seeks out the 71-year-old Dr. John and convinces him to return to the spooky, percussive swamp grooves of his first records, like this one from his 1968 debut.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WALK ON GILDED SPLINTERS")

DR. JOHN: (Singing) Some people think they jive me, but I know they must be crazy. Don't see their misfortune, I guess they're just too lazy. Je suie le grand zombie. My yellow belt of choisen. Ain't afraid of no tomcat, fill my brains with poison.

MOON: Those early Dr. John efforts were not big sellers, and within a few years, he'd streamlined his sound into a sly, funky, much more accessible party. But over time, the early records have earned a special place in the hearts of music obsessives like Auerbach. Stirring together rock and New Orleans R&B and hints of Africa and Cuba, they evoke a distinct bayou underworld. When Auerbach met with Dr. John, he talked about the thick atmospheres of those records, suggesting they put together a band of lightning-quick young musicians and go exploring in that direction.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ELLEGUA")

MOON: For nearly two weeks, Dr. John and Auerbach's crew engaged in a kind of musical time travel. Dr. John played piano or organ. At this stage, they didn't worry at all about vocals. They chased old-fashioned New Orleans rambles and funk chants and this whiplash-inducing Gospel jazz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GETAWAY")

MOON: Auerbach says Dr. John went home with the instrumental tracks and returned several weeks later with a bunch of ideas: phrases, poems, fragments of verses that express bitterness and frustration over the current economic situation.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GETAWAY")

MOON: That's a popular theme right now, and Dr. John approaches it like a wary and wily skeptic, slipping hipster jive and beat-poet imagery into songs about greed and indifference.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KINGDOM OF IZZNESS")

MOON: It's tempting to describe "Locked Down" as a return to form. That doesn't quite get it. Incredibly, in the few weeks they spent creating this, Dan Auerbach and Dr. John roused some spirits not heard from since the late 1960s and got them to speak about what it means to be alive and kicking in 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKED DOWN")

CORNISH: The new album from Dr. John is called "Locked Down." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKED DOWN")

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags: 

Related program: