Album review: DR JOHN – The Atco Albums Collection

DR JOHN - The Atco Albums Collection

Rhino [Release date 15.09.17]

Born Malcolm John Redennack. Dr John is a renowned American singer, songwriter, pianist and guitarist. Inspired by work with New Orleans R&B and Jazz pianist/singer Professor Longhair, Dr John’s work is often for its New Orleans voodoo nods as much jazz, R’n’B and psychedelia as well as pop, boogie woogie and rock ’n’ roll.

This fine set on Atco combines his first seven solo albums, recorded for Atco between 1968 and 1974. All are presented in replica card sleeves, some in gatefold, so it’s quite a package.

By then, Dr John had already built up quite a following with live and session work, working with New Orleans musicians both in New Orleans and Los Angeles. His debut (billed as Dr John The Night Tripper), Gris Gris, was released in 1968 and although failed to chart it did receive rave reviews at the time. The sound is at times quite off the wall, the r’n’b having quite a regional sound, the Voodoo and Psychedelia in equal measure. Occasionally quite experimental, there’s also a nod to the more earthy r’n’b played by Eric Burden and War four years later. It does take a listen or two before you get into it, but it is worth it. Some great sounds (and a decent melody or two too).

1969’s Babylon (fantastic solid gatefold sleeve) lyrically drew on the zeitgeist, the assassination of Martin Luthor King, the Vietnam War, so it’s quite heavy. There’s a little less Voodoo and more powerful soul to the r’n’b. There’s still a touch of rock’n’roll, The 8 minute Twighlight Zone is a moving moody epic, the music soul searching, moving from slow r’n’b to voodoo jangle and back again. Psychedelia indeed.

Remedies (1970) is an album overlooked by controversy and drugs, there was a lot going on at the time in and outside the music, and the 17 minute Angola Anthem is a song / story related to Dr John by a friend who spent 40 years in Angola (the prison, not the country), a “Horrible place to be”. Some nice blues in the r’n’b, it’s a moody meaningful journey

1971’s The Sun Moon And Herbs was a dark swampy affair that was cut from the intended triple album to a single LP. Opening with some decent piano (think Billy Joel on a downer). This was Dr John’s first album to make the Billboard Top 200. The album features a stripped down band (Dr John handling vocals, guitar, piano, organ, vibes), there’s the Memphis Horns who add a solid touch, and guests on the album include Graham Bond and Eric Clapton.

Dr John’s Gumbo (1972) is a tribute to the music of New Orleans, so a couple of self penned numbers pepper covers of period / regional music. And fine it is too, a little more uplifting than some of his earlier work. If you don’t know Iko Iko, you will recognise the melody. Mess Around is more uptempo, another well-known number.

Peaking at ’24, 1973’s In The Right Place was Dr John’s biggest selling solo album. Largely a collaboration with Allen Toussaint, the album is more accessible, with shorter songs that don’t skimp on talent or melody. Punchy and perfect.

Dr John’s final Atco album was 1974’s Destively Bonneroo. Again it sold well and is another solid listen, more commercial than his earlier work.

If you like (or want to investigate) the music, this is an excellent package. No booklet or notes, just reproductions of the 7 Atco albums – it does what it says on the tin, and good value too. ****

Review by Joe Geesin

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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Featured Albums w/c 6 July (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 MANDOKI SOULMATES Living In The Gap (Red Rock Production/Cleopatra)
12:00-13:00 MAGNUS KARLSSON’S FREE FALL – We Are The Night (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 BEN REEL The Nashville Calling (B.Reel Records)

Power Plays w/c 6 July (Mon-Fri)

ZENITH MOON Gypsy (Golden Robot Records)
RARITY Leave It Alone (New Damage Records)
THE RISING I Want You (indie)
MANDOKI SOULMATES Young Rebels (Red Rock Production/Cleopatra)
LA GUNS Well Oiled Machine (Golden Robot Records)

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