Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-05-04

2012-05-04

Dr. John: Goin' Back to New Orleans (Warner Bros., 1992) Seems dead in the water, a foregone conclusion waiting to happen. A cleaned-up Dr. consorts with Warner jazz guys and a numerically big band to erect "a tribute to the music of my hometown"--not his first, and hardly his last. Yet it seldom stumbles, not even when a femme quartet led by the distaff half of Shirley & Lee warbles the chorus of "Good Night Irene"--which, the Dr.'s expansive notes notwithstanding, wasn't written by Leadbelly at Angola Penitentiary or anywhere else (he adapted it much earlier from an 1880s minstrel tune by a biracial NYC duo, and that's what I love about the South). Rarely has the Dr. sung with more gusto, especially on the four comic songs about murder, infidelity, or both, and his cockamamy notion of hitching a gris-gris chant to a Louis Moreau Gottschalk composition sets a properly improbable mood. "Fess Up" is one of his trickiest Roy Byrd rips ever. Two Jelly Roll Mortons is about right. Even "Since I Fell for You" kind of fits. A-

Dr. John: The Very Best of Dr. John (Rhino, 1995) Mac Rebennack was a studio musician for a full decade before launching his Night Tripper hustle, and that doesn't count the two years he spent in stir. Then and later, monkey perched perpetually on his back, he wrote a whole lot of songs, and too many of them are hackwork. Even on the two-CD Mos' Scocious the writing becomes a problem. But with one or two exceptions, this CD never lets up, epitomizing his biz-wise mastery of rhumba boogie and the second line. The two pop hits lead. The gris-gris tracks are songs not shtick. The three selections from Gumbo don't come near to exhausting it--couldn't expect him to pass up the wickedest "Junko Partner" ever recorded or the touchstone "Tipitina," which re-emerges in his whiskey-piano dash through Joe Liggins's "Honeydripper." And if you consider it suspicious that he chooses to climax with the same song that climaxed a dubious concept album three years before, see above. A

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