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CD: Dr John - The Musical Mojo of Dr John | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Dr John - The Musical Mojo of Dr John

CD: Dr John - The Musical Mojo of Dr John

Live tribute concert cements New Orleans star's status

The great and the wicked pay tribute

New Orleans icon Dr John (Mac Rebennack) epitomises that city’s diversely blended musical traditions. This release was recorded live in May 2014 at a New Orleans Jazz Festival celebration of his career, which began in the 1950s on the Los Angeles studio scene. The generous double CD (even this double release is only half the original gig) allows enough time to sample the full range of his output. The live event programmed alternating local and guest performers.

Inevitably, the recording has favoured the names from elsewhere, though there are still plenty of New Orleans veterans, such as Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Neville Brothers, to balance rock’s relative youngsters in the form of Ryan Bingham and Jason Isbell.

Even after two hours, we’re left wanting more

The starriest collaboration is with Bruce Springsteen, who appears with Mac on the opening track in a belting version of “Right Place Wrong Time”. Surprisingly, perhaps, it’s one of the best – Bruce brings a steely, muscular drive on both guitar and vocals to a performance that complements Dr John’s luxurious, meandering vocals and funky organ, which sounds all the juicier for being set against Springsteen’s rhythm. At the other end of the dynamic range, Aaron and Charles Neville’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love”, drenched in vibrato, reminds us that you can, occasionally, have too much soul. More compelling, as an example of the local style, are funk pioneers Zigaboo Modeliste and George Porter Jr, whose “Junko Partner” oozes feisty, misfiring rhythm and Porter’s gorgeously lived-in vocals. 

The Dr John party really kicks off with gritty, grooving vocal performances from John Boutté, Mavis Staples and John Fogerty that epitomise Mac’s depth, breadth and irresistible charisma. There’s a tendency for these celebratory events to become rather long-winded, blowsy affairs, but here, even after two hours, we’re left wanting more. Some of the New Orleans performers may be new to British audiences, and their inclusion is welcome, but what this collection ultimately shows is that John Rebennack is an important national, and international musician.  

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