Album review: DR. JOHN – Creole Moon/N’Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D’Udda (reissue)

DR. JOHN – Creole Moon/N'Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D'Udda

Edsel [Release Date: 16.02.15]

Creole Moon is a return to the musical potpourri with which Dr John made his name as ‘The Night Tripper’, but the album doesn’t quite have the same magic as the latter, though it does bubbles up with deep grooves, colourful imagery and his timeless growl.

The musical direction is signified by the lush art work and together with his band The Lower 9-11, Dr. John explores different shades of funk, soul, r&b, blues, jazz and zydeco influences.

‘Creole Moon’ stretches the musical envelope, on an album top heavy with guests from Fred Wesley trombone solo on the archetypal funk of ‘Food For Thot’ (sic), to Kevin Louis’s spirited trumpet on ‘Queen of Cold’, and sax player ‘Fathead Newman’ triple contribution.

Sonny Landreth’s song shaping slide on the Latino tinged ‘Take What I Can Get’ and Michael Doucet’s sonorous fiddle on ‘Holdin’ Pattern’ also gives the album an extra dimension.

‘Creole Moon’ starts refreshingly enough, but ultimately runs out of material. Mac revisits his funky roots on ‘You Swore’ and the low down dirty groove of ‘In The Name Of You’ on which he wraps his throaty vocals round the lyrics like black molasses.

The atmospheric ‘Bruha Bembe’ featuring Charlie Miller on flute is a slow building piece over whispers and sighs as Mac slips into a trademark vocal, and ‘Imitation of Love’ is a piano-led slow blues with scratchy guitar

Things dip a little on the percussive ‘Now That You Got Me’, which relies on an electro voice, while the three part title track doesn’t quite convince as it shifts from a late night jazzy instrumental intro into a sudden tempo change over celebratory horn lines. It flatters to deceive and doesn’t quite deliver what it promises, slipping into an underwhelming piano and horn led resolution.

‘Georgianna’ is a sonorous love song complete with background fiddle and zydeco triangle in the mix, and ‘Monkey and Baboon’ drops us in heat of the jungle with pumping horns, rolling piano and eclectic lyrics.

The full horn section joins in on the mambo feel of ‘Litenin’ another song that is full of musical ideas and rhythms but like the album as a whole doesn’t quite convince. ***½ 

Topped and tailed by a string arrangements, the phonetically titled N’Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D’Udda is an all star album, crammed full of New Orleans finest, including the king of shuffle drummers Earl Palmer.

It’s a journey into New Orleans musical history and draws on Dr. John’s own myriad musical styles before coming to rest on the Cyril Neville sung, ‘I’m Goin’ Home’.

It’s an album that just about strikes a balance with a big roll call of guests, and finds Dr John in his element on the music he was born to perform.

He clearly means business on the funereal ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ – complete with the Davell Jubilee choir – and employs a wolf style growl on a gospel style duet with Mavis Staples on ‘Lay My Burden Down’. It’s the kind of song on which he doesn’t really have to do much as the arrangement and the stellar players take care of things.

Cyril Neville guests on one of the album highlights, the swampy ‘Marie Laveau’ with nuanced strings and keyboard player Willie Tee stars on the low- down funk of the title track, while the self penned ‘Chikee Le Pas’ sounds like a party in the studio, as The Wardell Quezergue Horns cook in the background. Mac then trades vocals with Dave Barthlomew’s trumpet on ‘The Monkey’, which is cool but not essential.

Each track brings different musical layers, stretched over varied and subtle rhythms, before Randy Newman unexpectedly pops up for an ironic duet on the biblical tale of ‘I Ate Up The Apple Tree’.

Dr. John drawls his way round the poignant lyrics of ‘Life Is A One Way Ticket’ with beautiful accompaniment from drummer Earl Palmer and Alfred Roberts on bongos, and you can just hear the authentic clarinet of Ralph Johnson Sr. in the background.

B.B. King joins the big band arrangement of ‘Hen Layin’ Rooster’ and Mac tinkles the ivories and adds another worn in growl on ‘Stakalee’, before an introductory rap and fine interpretive singing on the chunky groove of ‘St. James Infirmary’.

‘N’Awlinz: Dis Dat Or D’Udda’ is an album that ultimately fulfils its lofty ambitions and delivers the musical spirit of N’Awlinz’. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00

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