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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dr. John and the Lower 911

City That Care Forgot (429)

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   Ever since his debut, 1968's Gris-Gris, there's never been a question about the exact source of Dr. John's sound. Now, though, three years after Hurricane Katrina, his amicable growl seems more poised than ever to be a musical/social/political voice for New Orleans.

  While City That Care Forgot isn't a likely catalyst for sweeping change, or even a musical high-water mark (like 2005's Sippiana Hericane before it), it’s another pain-ridden, get-down effort by Mac Rebennack to make sense of all the senselessness swamping his hometown. And like the life/death duality that embodies all aspects of the city, it is at once both eulogy and party.

  Almost all the lyrics deal directly with reconstruction efforts and frustrations, and there's little doubt that the pissed-off message deserves to be heard, and needs to be spoken, by New Orleans musicians. Though politicization rarely makes for a good celebration, here the groove is every bit as thick as the underlying rancor—back-alley pimp-struts ("Dream Warrior"), strolling funk ("We Gettin’ There"), badass horn-charts ("Say Whut?") and soul-with-swagger ("Keep on Goin'"). Mac's own Professor Longhair-like piano tinklings and late-night bounce tie everything together.

  Eric Clapton (getting around these days), Willie Nelson (sounding out of place) and Ani DiFranco also make low-key guest appearances. Local drop-bys—still the defining element of New Orleans recordings—include James Andrews, Terence Blanchard and Terrance Simien.

  Though it offers nothing groundbreaking or truly heartbreaking ("You Might Be Surprised" falls a bit short), City is a notable chapter in New Orleans' post-Katrina songbook, if for no other reason than it stems from the most recognizable voice of the city.


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