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City That Care Forgot (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

The City That Care Forgot follows Dr. John's (aka Mac Rebennack's) brilliant 2006 Mercernary set based on Johnny Mercer tunes. Given that this recording, like 2005's emergency benefit EP Sippiana Hericane, is rather political in nature, one can assume it's an entirely different animal than Mercernary...but is it? Since the good Doc has his fantastic Lower 911 band in tow (they played on both of the previous outings), we can count on some deeply funky, New Orleans second-line R&B, blues, and jazz grooves, despite the socially conscious nature of the lyrics. The set was recorded in Maurice, LA, and produced by Mac and Herman Roscoe Ernest. There is a load of "name" guests here, which is a mixed blessing in at least one case. Eric Clapton makes his second sideman appearance this year — the first was on Steve Winwood's brilliant Nine Lives — playing excellent spooky blues guitar on three tracks here: the title (with Ani DiFranco on backing vocals and guitar), the strutting R&B whomp of "Time for a Change," (an exhortation to vote), and the deep, driven funk of "Stripped Away." (Perhaps he should quit making his own records and take up the sideman gig permanently, because these appearances are stellar.) In addition, Terence Blanchard makes a pair of appearances on the voodoo stroll of "We Gettin' There," and the popping backline, jazzy funk of "Land Grab." So far, so good: but why is Willie Nelson here? His duet vocal on "Promises, Promises" — not the Burt Bacharach tune — drags this uptempo, swaggering Mardi Gras rhythm track into the suburbs. It's lifeless. Terrance Simien makes a fine appearance on the album closer "Save Our Wetlands," and the badass horns of James "12" Andrews and Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews make "My People Need a Second Line" an authentic example. It should also be noted that the great Bobby Charles co-wrote five tunes with Mac, and authored "Promises, Promises" all by his lonesome. The man is killing it as a writer — if only he'd record more!

The vibe on this record dances all over the map. It's very consistent with that one exception. The music gets all dark, moody, and hoodoo in places, à la the sinister tracks on 1998's Anutha Zone, or his Atlantic recording period. In the cuts "Dream Warrior" and the title track, the anger expressed may result in a real life hex. Elsewhere, the Doc and Lower 911 offer more upbeat musical reflections that walk the razor's fine line between rage and hope, as on "You Might Be Surprised" (with its gorgeous strings and honky tonk piano), the mucky horn and clavinet funk that drives "Say Whut?," and the jazzy R&B of the opener "Keep on Goin'." "Save Our Wetlands" and "My People Need a Second Line" carry hope, and there's a strident "never surrender" message in what is some of the most joyous music imaginable. The character of New Orleans cultural — and particularly musical — heritage is everywhere present on this disc, and its personnel reflects it: the legendary Wardell Quezergue arranges horns on a couple of cuts. And the horn section is comprised of Crescent City residents Alonzo Bowens, Jason Mingeldorff, and Charlie Miller. Add to this the killer backing vocals of Tyrone Aiken, and percussion by Kenneth "Afro" Williams and Herman V. Ernest III, and it's a homespun party. Despite the serious nature of the lyrics on City That Care Forgot, the music is pure Dr. John doing everything he does best and, as evidenced by his last four or five outings, he's more consistent in the early 2000s than at any time in his long career.


Born: 21 November 1940 in New Orleans, LA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although he didn't become widely known until the 1970s, Dr. John had been active in the music industry since the late '50s, when the teenager was still known as Mac Rebennack. A formidable boogie and blues pianist with a lovable growl of a voice, his most enduring achievements fused with New Orleans R&B, rock, and Mardi Gras craziness to come up with his own brand of "voodoo" music. He's also quite accomplished and enjoyable when sticking to purely traditional forms of blues and R&B. On record, he...
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