Album review: Dr. John, ‘Locked Down’ (Nonesuch)

April 3, 2012

Veteran fans who despaired of Mac Rebennack ever again conjuring the Night Tripper’s swamp psychedelia and sexy, voodoo-ritual vibes of the 1968 masterpiece Gris-Grisas well as less familiar listeners who might dismiss him as a New Orleans legend better respected and consigned to the pantheon than actually listened to in this century—both have been done an enormous favor by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who, on the heels of that group’s strongest album, finally surpasses his obvious role model Jack White, at least in the realm of career reclamations. 

All due respect to White and Loretta Lynn, but Auerbach better understands and more deeply loves the magic of Dr. John’s first four albums, nudging him out of his comfort zone at some points (away from the piano and toward a wonderfully trashy Farfisa organ, as on “Revolution”), taking him back to his deepest roots at others (witness the Creole vocals on “Eleggua”), and letting a wonderful mix of tribal African drums and timeless blues-rock rhythms fuel a wonderfully spicy, intoxicating and timeless gumbo that is as brilliant and thoroughly otherworldly as anything this musical treasure ever has given us.

Rating on the four-star scale: 4 stars.