Sunday, 5 July 2015

"Anutha Zone/Duke Elegant" by DR. JOHN (2015 Edsel/Rhino 2CD Reissue) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Soulful Warrior..."

When New Orleans voodoo man Dr. John released "Anutha Zone" on CD in August 1998 - people applauded its definite return to slinky form for the 'blackest white man' in the business (as legendary Atlantic Records Producer used to call him). Mac Rebennack (his real name) followed it in February 2000 with a tribute album to his musical hero jazzman calling it "Duke Elegant: Dr. John Performing The Music Of Duke Ellington". And that's where this clever 2CD reissue comes in...

UK released February 2015 – Edsel EDSK 7076 (Barcode 740155707637) is a 2CD set housed in a snazzy card slipcase (Disc 1 is 14 tracks at 56:54 minutes, Disc 2 is 12 tracks at 66:38 minutes). There is no remastering here (absolutely no need) - but there is a beautifully laid out 24-page booklet which features liner notes by PAUL MYERS and a new 2014 interview with the great man himself. Inbetween we get full musician credits and reproductions of the gorgeous artwork (the Ellington set is done in old style 78s wording and label bags).

PAUL WELLER guests on Guitar and Vocals on the cover of John Martyn's "Solid Air” classic "I Don't Wanna Know" as well as accompanying Carleen Anderson on "Party Hellfire" (vocals). Dr. John’s house band of Bobby Broom on Guitar is bolstered to huge effect by Hugh McCracken's additional slide menace on the funkily sly "Ki Ya Gris Gris". Dr. John's rolling Fats Domino-influenced piano features throughout as does his great gris-gris vocals - while Ronnie Cuber's superb Saxophone fills are never far away ("Anutha Zone", "Voices In My Head" and the fabulously sloppy "I Like Ki Yoka"). Funk lovers will eat up the chugging shuffle of "Why Come" – an album highlight.

The "Duke Elegant" set from 2000 (released to tie-in with Ellington's birth centenary) splits listeners and fans into Marmite groups of "I love it" or "I loath it" – personally I’m of the first persuasion but can understand both camps. It opens with "On The Wrong Side Of The Railroad Tracks" – a beautifully smoochy piano version and two things hit you – the great arrangement that makes an old song feel new – and the stunning Production values. The album was self-produced but mastered by top Sound Engineer GREG CALBI whose audiophile work with Supertramp, Paul Simon and Paul McCartney has garnished huge praise over the decades. This album sounds awesome – his backing band being Bobby Broom on Guitars, David Barard on Bass, Merman Ernest III on Drums with Ronnie Cuber guesting on Saxophone (he collectively calls them "The Lower 9-11").

Things get slap-bass funky with "I'm Gonna Go Fishin'" where Dr. John comes on more like the Isley Brothers than Professor Longhair. He adopts the same Brothers Johnson funkified arrangement to the old standard "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" and in this case – I’m not so sure if it works (one for the purists to pull out tufts of hair or what they’ve got left of it). More successful is the pulsating R&B New Orleans Piano romp he radically applies to "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" – I love it (others will not). But my fave has always been his lounge-lizard slouch through "Mood Indigo" where he sounds like some barroom drawl at 2 in the morning when he’s just pleasing himself.

A clever pairing of albums - presented in beautiful sound and quality packaging – nice one Edsel and a must for Mac Rebennack fans..

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