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Dr. John, with the Meters - Desitively Bonnaroo (1974)


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By Nick DeRiso

Dr. John further defines an ass-shaking new synthesis on Desitively Bonnaroo. Even today, there's really no roadmap for the crazy-eyed co-mingling of R&B, jazz, island beats, blues, boogie funk and hoodoo whackadoo splashed across this LP, recorded alongside fellow New Orleans legends Allen Toussaint and the Meters more than 35 years ago.

At the same time, the grooves here are so sleekly ingratiating as to be therapeutic. Bonnaroo doesn't aspire to the brash, edgy soul of contemporaries like George Clinton or the Ohio Players. No, it's too sophisticated, too mysterious, for that. Which is probably why this 1974 cluster-funk didn't sell nearly as well as its predecessor, Dr. John's breakthough In the Right Place.

There are rattling rhythms, to be sure, in standout cuts like “Quitters Never Win," “Desitively Bonnaroo" and “(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away"; but also bubbling slow-burners and soaring sing alongs called “Stealin,'" “Go Tell the People" and, of course, “Sing Along Song"; then these weirdly effective gumbos like the voodoo balladry of “What Comes Around Goes Around," the boozy blue-eyed R&B of “R U 4 Real?" and the toe-curling rhumba “Mos' Scocious." Dr. John (nee Mac Rebennack) even pays deft tribute to his forebears with a spiralling Professor Longhair piano riff on Earl King's feel-good anthem “Let's Make a Better World."

Meanwhile, the Meters are reliably soulful but note-perfectly restrained. George Porter Jr. adds a chicken-fried bass line to “Rite Away," perhaps only topped by guitarist Leo Nocentelli's nasty little riff on “Can't Get Enough." Then there's Art Neville, perfectly hushed at the organ on “Me Minus You Equals Loneliness." Toussant has never been more nimble arranging the brass, either, mimicking the Meters' stuttering okey-doke on “Stealin,'" then adding a brilliant street-funeral wheeze to “What Comes Around (Goes Around)."

Stirred together at Toussaint's Sea-Saint Studios in New Orleans, Bonnaroo is the sound of a group of musicians in perfect sync. And, yeah, having a ball. Dr. John has rarely sounded more loose, more committed. “High steppin' mama!" he crows at one point, with a singing voice like a knotty live-oak knee. “Better keep on foxin' with your foxy self!" Nearby, this slinky, coolly salacious backup singers match Dr. John and Co., wail for wail: “Give me what you got for me!"

For all its musical delights, Bonnaroo might just be this swampland supergroup's best party record, too.

Dr. John and the original Meters will appear at this year's Bonnaroo Festival, along with a reunited Buffalo Springfield and others, and are reportedly set to recreate this album in its entirety. Named after a south Louisiana expression meaning roughly “better than the best," Desitively Bonnaroo later gave the Tennessee-based music event its name.

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