Dr John - Best Of The Parlaphone Years

At the end of the 1960s, when Dr John introduced himself tot he rock audience, it was assured by most people that this strangely dressed character, decorated with feathers, beads and other finery, was a new artist, but he'd been active as a musician for a decade prior to that in the recording studios of his hometown New Orleans, appearing as a keyboard player or guitarist on countless Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll records to emanate from that city. After migrating to Los Angeles he continued his job as a session player until a Sonny & Cher recording session was cancelled and he utilized the studio time to begin work on a project he had been formulating.

It was then that the artists formally known as Mac (short for Malcolm) Rebenack, former child model for soup adverts (I kid you not) morphed into 'Dr John The Night Tripper' and recorded his first album under that moniker entitled "Gris Gris". What sounded like hippy trippy drug inspired music was in fact the sound of New Orleans traditional music and folklore. And so began a solo career that has lasted 35 years or so, recorded for many different labels, encompassed various musical styles, appeared with different aggregations of musicians, performed solo, collaborated whole albums with Van Morrison and BB King and guested on recordings by The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin and The Band to name just a few, and even tasted Top Twenty chart success in America in the early 70s with tracks from his "Right Place, Wrong Time" album produced by New Orleans legend Allen Tousaint.

In recent years his profile has been higher than ever and he has recorded for Parlophone in the last few years, from which the selections for the "Best of" have been taken

"Anuth Zone" was his first album after signing with Parlophone. Produced by British producer John Leckie, several of the tracks were recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London and feature guest appearances by British artists such as Paul Weller, Jools Holland, Ocean Colour Scene and Supergrass. Five selections are included here from that album. Whether the decision to collaborate with British musicians of a different generation was taken purely for commercial or artistic reasons I don't know, but the attempt to recreate the songs of those first Dr John albums sounds somewhat contrived. There are exceptions though. "Hello God" features the atmospheric vocals of the London Community Gospel Choir and Paul Weller adds vocals and guitar on a version of John Martyns "I Don't Wanna Know".

"The Creole Moon" album was recorded with the Doctors road band, The Lower 9-11. This compilation features two selections from that set, "Now That You Got Me" which is slightly marred by the use of a vocoder on the backing vocals, and the funky "Food For Thot" (Dr John has little regard for conventional spellings, preferring a phonetic version of Nowlins speak) which is enlivened by the horns, arranged by former James Brown sideman Fred Wesley.

"Duke Elegant" was the Doctors tribute to Duke Ellington and there are two selections from that album. That recording might not have had the same commercial appeal as others of Dr John's albums, but on "It Don't Mean A Thing" and "I'm Gonna Go Fishing" the swing and the jazz of The Duke are transformed into a funky New Orleans stew with the Doctor on organ.

The fourth and latest album for Parlophone us "N'Awlins Dis Dat or D'udda (it sounds better when he says it). This album is certainly a career highlight and provides this compilation with it's best selections, collaborating with both his contemporaries and elders on versions of New Orleans blues, R&B and Jazz. Fellow New Orleans resident Cyril Neville with the Mardi Gras Indians provide the backing for the tale of the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. That particular track is dark and moody, but a much lighter mood is displayed on the comedy songs "Laying Rooster" featuring BB King and "I At Up The Apple Tree" featuring Randy Newman. The legendary Mavis Staples joins forces with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to provide the gospel fervour for "Lay Me Burden Down".

The previously unreleased tracks complete this compilation which will snare the completists while the uninitiated can sample the talents of one of America's greatest talents.

Derek McCann

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