Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dr. John - Locked Down

At 71 years of age, the good doctor would seem better suited for retirement than some late-career appreciation effort coordinated by a member of The Black Keys. But here he is, complete with Gris-Gris font and a hint of windowpane acid; Locked Down is a comeback album for a legend who really doesn’t need one.

I think Dr. John gets this, but Locked Down sounds like a sly wink to us under the idea that Dan Auerbach somehow conjured this awesome session from him. Here is a musician operating on such a level that this is music that he could make in his sleep. It was just Auerback’s balls in approaching him with the album’s vintage tint sound.

God bless him for it, because Locked Down’s look back is the stuff that people will be enjoying for years to come, potentially being the first exposure to Dr. John in the process and sending them on their merry way down the annals of his catalog.

Mac Rebennack’s confidence exudes throughout the album, in both vocal phrasing and his own performance. He adds on and lies off as needed, giving the rhythm section center-stage in some moments.

Those rhythms save him at times, like “Ice Age,” a cut with such rhythmic possibilities that Doc’s off-the-cuff societal observations sound like bits of brief genius. It all ends the moment you check the lyric sheet, but who has time to read when your ass is shakin’?

And when the worst song on the album prompts that kind of forgiveness, then you’re really holding a damn fine effort. Locked Down is a powerful reminder to people a half-century his junior of how the possibility of perfection can come at any moment.

The idea is to be ready for it and to be the open to the idea that it can happen. It has happened here, Auerback’s decision to put the rhythms out in front give Doc a chance to be a little ornery with his own place in the mix.

Locked Down would be a masterpiece on its own merits, but the fact that it comes so late in Dr. John’s career is what makes it extra noteworthy. He delivers it so effortlessly that it prompts listeners to get excited about examining of his past work, while shedding an incredible light on future possibilities. 

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