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Dr. John and The Lower 911: Tribal

Chris May By

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With hindsight, keyboards player and vocalist Mac Rebennack's return to his "Dr. John, The Night Tripper" oeuvre might have been foreseen before the recording of Tribal, when in 2006 he once more donned the full-blown voodoo regalia for his appearance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival. But then Katrina came along and Rebennack's attentions became focused on a more pressing concern, the rescue of his hometown, New Orleans. The Grammy award-winning ("Best Contemporary Blues Album") City That Care Forgot (Cooking Vinyl, 2008) was the result.



It's not that the albums which followed Gris-gris (Atco, 1968) have been lacking in any way, but anyone who can remember that album's unveiling of the Night Tripper persona—and if Rebennack can remember the '60s, anyone can—likely wanted more in the same vein, every now and then at least. Gris-gris' mystic swamp vibe was repeated on its immediate follow ups—Babylon (1969), Remedies (1970) and Sun, Moon and Herbs (1971), all on Atco—but the weirder magic was waning, and with the Allen Toussaint-produced In The Right Place (Atco, 1973), which spawned the Top 10 single "Right Time, Wrong Place," Rebennack's music, still as funky as a donkey's butt, became more focused, less discursive.



Tribal isn't an exact return to Gris-gris, but it often gets delightfully close. Seven of the 16 tracks—"Feel Good Music," "Jinky Jinx," "Sleepin' In My Bed," "Manoovas," "Scroungin'" and sections of "Tribal"—could almost have been made back in the day; the other nine are infused with enough of the same spirit to keep them close to the mothership.



Along the way, there are some magnificent horn arrangements, by tenor saxophonist Alonzo Bowens, and matching solos, most memorably from trombonist Mark Mullins on "Them," alto saxophonist Donald Harrison on "Music Came" and "A Place In The Sun," and slide guitarist Derek Trucks on "Manoovas." There's a string quartet on "Lissen At Our Prayer," arranged by Wardell Quezergue, and, throughout, the badass Lower 911 quartet: Herman "Roscoe" Ernest III, drums; David Barard: bass; John Fohl: guitar; Kenneth "Afro" Williams: percussion.



Rebennack wrote or co-wrote 13 tracks, Toussaint two ("Big Gap," "Them"), and Harold Battiste one ("Music Came"). Louisiana singer/songwriter Bobby Charles, Rebennack's contemporary and fellow traveller, collaborated with him on "Change Of Heart," "Tribal" and "Potnah." Charles died in January 2010, and Rebennack has dedicated Tribal to him. Lyric concerns range through the spirit world, New Orleans' continuing plight, wider environmental and economic issues, and love, carnal and otherwise.



But enough stats and facts. Right now, this doctorated portion of dirty audio rice demands to be played again.


Track Listing: Feel Good Music; Lissen At Our Prayer; Big Gap; When I'm Right (I'm Wrong); Jinky Jinx; Change Of Heart; Sleepin' In My Bed; Whut's Wit Dat; Tribal; Them; Only In Amerika; Potnah; Music Came; Manoovas; Scroungin'; A Place In The Sun.

Personnel: Dr. John: vocals, organ, piano; Herman "Roscoe" Ernest III: drums, duet vocals (10), percussion, backing vocals; David Barard: bass, lead vocals (13), backing vocals; John Fohl: guitar, backing vocals; Kenneth "Afro" Williams: percussion, backing vocals. Guests: Alonzo Bowens: tenor saxophone; Charlie Miller: trumpet; Carl Blouin: baritone saxophone; Donald Harrison: alto saxophone (13, 16); Marcel Richardson: piano, organ; Mark Mullins: trombone (10); Charla Herman: chant (9); Lulu Siker: chant (9); Derek Trucks: lead guitar (14); Elaine Foster: backing vocals; Erica Falls: backing vocals; Lisa Foster: backing vocals; Natalia Casante: violin (2); Harry Hardin: violin (2); Lauren Lemmier: viola (2); Helen Gillet: cello (2).

Title: Tribal | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: 429 Records

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