Tuesday, 12 June 2018

"The Atco Albums Collection" by DR. JOHN [THE NIGHT TRIPPER] (September 2017 Rhino/Atco 7CD Box of Remasters in Mini LP Card Sleeves) - A Review by Mark Barry...






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"...Gilded Splinters..."


The Night Tripper's catalogue used to come and go when I worked in Reckless Records (Islington and Berwick Street) with alarming regularity. Dr. John was and is an acquired taste. Of the seven albums presented here - only four charted Stateside and three of those were just inside the Top 200 ("In The Right Place" finally broke him out into the mainstream in 1973 and made No. 24). The original British issues on Atco and Atlantic plum labels/orange and tan K labels were the same (all non-charters) and are consequently quite rare in good condition in 2018.

In fact many of us 'rock geezers' were introduced to the colourful Malcolm Rebennack from New Orleans via our 99p purchase of Atlantic Super 2464 013 – "The Age Of Atlantic" label sampler LP put out in October 1970 that had "Wash, Mama, Wash" from his 3rd album "Remedies". And of course we were aware of the mighty "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" - a song like Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" or Ron Davies "It Ain't Easy" that lent itself to cover versions - huge numbers of Rock bands digging its spooky sway. Humble Pie give it an entire side on their fantastic live double album "Performance..." in 1972 and Paul Weller laid into it big time for his equally brill 1995 set "Stanley Road". Dr. John has always 'been there' so to speak...

But here at last is a decent splurge worth getting your teeth into. You get his first seven albums from 1968 to 1974 newly remastered for this 2017 set and given those natty Mini LP Repro Card Sleeves (Disc 1, 3 and 4 are credited to Dr. John The Night Tripper whilst the others are simply Dr. John). The good news is that "Babylon", "The Sun Moon & Herbs", "Dr. John's Gumbo" and "In The Right Place" all get their gatefold sleeves repro'd ("In The Right Place" gets that elaborate tri-gatefold) and the CDs reflect the original label colouring - Pink and Mustard for "Gris-Gris" and mostly the yellow Atco variant thereafter. The bad news is that there's no booklet to back up the music's historical place and influence or even give you musician credits and advise of the guests involved (I've provided those credits below where available). Shame that - but at least the cool-looking clamshell box is reasonably priced (roughly 3.50 per CD) and the new Stereo Remasters 'rock' right across the seven-album board. Let's get into the Gris-Gris and the Gumbo Ya Ya...

UK released 15 September 2017 (22 September 2017 in the USA) - "The Atco Albums Collection" by DR. JOHN on Rhino/Atco 081227933876 (Barcode 081227933876) is a 7CD Clamshell Box Set of New Remasters that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Gris-Gris" (33:27 minutes):
1. Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya [Side 1]
2. Danse Kalinda Ba Doom
3. Mama Roux
4. Danse Fambeaux
5. Croker Courtbullion [Side 2]
6. Jump Sturdy
7. I Walk On Gilded Splinters
Tracks 1 to 7 are his debut album "Gris-Gris" (credited to Dr. John The Night Tripper) - released January 1968 in the USA on Atco SD 33-234 (Stereo) and in the UK on Atco 588 147 (reissued June 1972 on Atlantic K 40168). Musicians included Steve Mann on Guitar, Plas Johnson on Saxophone, Lonnie Boulden on Flute, Ernest McLean on Mandolin, Bob West and Harold Battiste on Bass and John Boudreaux on Drums

Disc 2 "Babylon" (37:19 minutes):
1. Babylon [Side 1]
2. Glowin'
3. Black Widow Spider
4. Barefoot Lady
5. Twilight Zone [Side 2]
6. The Patriotic Flag-Waiver
7. The Lonesome Guitar Strangler
Tracks 1 to 7 are his second studio album "Babylon" (credited to Dr. John) - released January 1969 in the USA on Atco SD 33-270 (Stereo) and April 1969 in the UK on Atco 228 018 (Stereo).

Disc 3 "Remedies" (40:44 minutes):
1. Loop Garoo [Side 1]
2. What Goes Around Comes Around
3. Wash, Mama, Wash
4. Chippy, Chippy
5. Mardi Gras Day
6. Angola Anthem [Side 2]
Tracks 1 to 6 are his third studio album "Remedies" (credited to Dr. John The Night Tripper) - released April 1970 in the USA on Atco SD 33-316 (Stereo) and August 1970 in the UK on Atco 2400 015.

Disc 4 "The Sun Moon & Herbs" (39:25 minutes):
1. Black John The Conqueror [Side 1]
2. Where Ya At Mule
3. Craney Crow
4. Familiar Reality-Opening [Side 2]
5. Pots On Fiyo (Filé Gumbo) / Who I Got To Fall On (If The Pot Get Heavy)
6. Zu Zu Mamou
7. Familiar Reality-Reprise
Tracks 1 to 7 are his fourth studio album "The Sun Moon & Herbs" (credited to Dr. John The Night Tripper) - released August 1971 in the USA on Atco SD 33-362 (Stereo) and November 1971 in the UK on Atco 2400 161. Guest Musicians included - Graham Bond, Chris Mercer, Bobby Keys, Jim Price and The Memphis Horns on various Horns, Steve York of The Graham Bond Organization on Bass, Calvin "Fuzzy" Samuels of Stephen Stills' Manassas on Congas and Bobby Whitlock (of Derek & The Dominoes) with Doris Troy on Backing Vocals. Charted October 1971 and eventually peaked at No 184 on the US LP charts.

Disc 5 "Dr. John's Gumbo" (39:50 minutes):
1. Iko Iko [Side 1]
2. Blow Wind Blow
3. Big Chief
4. Somebody Changed The Lock
5. Mess Around
6. Let The Good Times Roll
7. Junko Partner [Side 2]
8. Stack-A-Lee
9. Tipitina
10. Those Lonely Lonely Nights
11. Huey Smith Medley: (a) High Blood Pressure (b) Don't You Just Know It (c) Well I'll Be John Brown
12. Little Liza Jane
Tracks 1 to 12 are his fifth studio album "Dr. John's Gumbo" [aka "Gumbo"] - a collection of cover versions (as Dr. John) released April 1972 in the USA on Atco SD 7006 and July 1972 in the UK on Atlantic K 40384. It peaked at No. 112 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

Disc 6 "In The Right Place" (33:43 minutes):
1. Right Place Wrong Time [Side 1]
2. Same Old Same Old
3. Just The Same
4. Qualified
5. Traveling Mood
6. Peace Brother Peace
7. Life [Side 2]
8. Such A Night
9. Shoo Fly Marches On
10. I Been Hoodooed
11. Cold Cold Cold
Tracks 1 to 11 are his sixth studio album "In The Right Place" (as Dr. John) - released February 1973 in the USA on Atco SD 7018 and March 1973 in the UK on Atco K 50017. With Allen Toussaint, The Meters and Art Neville of The Neville Brothers as guest musicians (Toussaint also Produced) - the album peaked at No. 24 in the USA LP charts.

Disc 7 "Desitively Bonaroo" (37:15 minutes):
1. Quitters Never Win [Side 1]
2. Stealin'
3. What Comes Around (Goes Around)
4. Me - You = Loneliness
5. Mo's Scoious
6. (Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away
7. Let's Make A Better World [Side 2]
8. R U 4 Real
9. Sing Along Song
10. Can't Git Enuff
11. Go Tell The People
12. Desitively Bonaroo
Tracks 1 to 12 are his seventh studio album "Desitively Bonaroo" (as Dr. John) - released April 1974 in the USA on Atco SD 7043 and March 1974 in the UK on Atlantic K 50035. Produced by and featuring Allen Toussaint (also wrote "Go Tell The People") - The Meters were once again the Backing Band and the LP peaked at No. 105 in the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

I've always had a hard time with the "Gris-Gris" debut album - a lot of mumbo to me at the time and unfortunately large parts of it still feel that way. But what hammers you here is the New Remaster - it elevates everything. The Harold Battiste part-instrumental "Crocker Courtbullion" for instance that opens Side 2 is suddenly 'huge' - all that mad conga-and-flute voodoo rhythm swirling around your speakers like you're inside a bird menagerie where someone has handed out tablets to the canaries and birds of prey. Having lived with old variants of "Jump Sturdy" - this 2017 version feels alive like it never did before and the stunning "I Walk On Gilded Splinters" is fantastic in all its 7:40 minute magnificence. All those finger-clicks, conga slaps, plaintive flutes and girly chants jump out of your speakers with gutter 'malice'. Fabulous stuff...

Apart from "Barefoot Lady" which was a co-write with Producer Harold Battiste - Dr. John fully-penned the 2nd album "Babylon" and again the 2017 Remaster really has lifted the LP up into another league. The 'represented in the Bible' "Babylon" roars into existence as does the 'yes it is' of "Glowin'" - guitars and horns so clear. Dr. John gets heavy on "Black Widow Spider" - his fuzzed-up guitars and odd rhythms sounding not unlike Captain Beefheart. Other highlights include the acoustic guitars of "Barefoot Lady" - pianos and cymbals tingling in the eight-minute "Twilight Zone" and the almost Allman Brothers gee-tar of the album finisher "The Lonesome Guitar Strangler" - a strange hybrid tune of strummed mandolins, Jazz rhythms and an instrumental guitar-break that features a few moments of Cream's "Sunshine Of Your Love".

Although it was probably his most commercially accessible album – 1970's "Remedies" was more of a New Orleans homage than the full on invention of Swamp-Rock, Bayou-Funk and Psych-Fusion that came from the earlier outings. "Chippy, Chippy" sounds like its title - a piano upbeat bopper - but like "What Goes Around Comes Around" already feels slightly old-hat somehow. Side 2 of the record is taken up by 17:35 minutes of the driving "Angola Anthem" - a track that acts like Side 1 never happened. Politics, anger, racing 'shoot you just for fun' rhythms suddenly make the album feel righteous and real (and the Remaster is fantastic too – drums, tambourines, voices, guitar flicks). By the time we get to LP number four in 1971 The Night Tripper seemed to have reclaimed some of his Gris-Gris mojo. Cool tunes like the sexy yet bullish "Where Ya At Mule" and the Sgt. Pepper sleaze-rhythm of "Craney Crow" (harking back to "I Walk On Gilded Splinters") showed he could still hit you with that crazy groove that’s hard to explain. All those famous session names too (many British) add to the two parts of "Familiar Reality" - but my rave-crave is the nuts Tuba shuffle of "Zu Zu Mamou" sounding fantastic when those acoustic guitars slink in. The girls singing of somebody ripping out your mind – he whispers of street lights – she burns candles – snake eggs - time to visit the doctor methinks. "The Sun Moon & Herbs" album should have done better than its lowly No. 184 showing on the American LP charts.

His cover versions album "Dr. John's Gumbo" has always been seen as a filler - a strangely odd thing in the spring of 1972. But amidst the obvious Professor Longhair and Ray Charles tracks ("Tipitina" and "Mess Around") - there are more obscure goodies - stuff like his own 1960 song "Somebody Changed The Lock" and James Wayne's "Junko Partner" which The Clash would revisit on the 1980 triple-album "Sandinista!" And the four Huey "Piano" Smith covers (three in a medley plus the album’s final song "Little Liza Jane") are great fun to my ears.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer fans (of all people) owe the album name to their heroes' fifth LP "Brain Salad Surgery" to lyrics Keith Emerson heard in the opening track "Right Place Wrong Time". Perhaps more importantly the presence of The Meters as the Doctor's rhythm section along with major contributions from song-masters Allen Toussaint and Art Neville of The Neville Brothers seemed to bring out both the Funk and Soul in the Mac. There's a lovely overall feel to everything on the LP "In The Right Place" (one of my faves). Even better is the 2017 Remaster - which is just gorgeous and suddenly full of beans. Take the piano and brass intro to the champagne and soda pop equality song - "Qualified" - a co-write with Jesse Hill, an old friend of Professor Longhair and Huey Smith and the writer of the New Orleans R&B classic "Ooh Poo Pah Doo". It feels huge as the girls sing the song title with passion – his whistling intro to "Traveling Mood" is the same. The album gets Aretha Funky and 1973 Righteous with "Peace Brother Peace" - a call to peaceful arms all over this world. Allen Toussaint's distinctive vocals can be heard in his lone song contribution to the album - the father-father look what they done "Life" - a cool groover. "Shoo Fly Marches On" is another hot-in-the-slot shuffler with the single "Cold Cold Cold" ending the album on a mid-paced high (I thought I was your something special, he bemoans).

For album number seven – the wittily titled "Desitively Bonaroo" – Dr. John used the same ace team in 1974 as he had in 1973 – The Meters, Art Neville and Allen Toussaint – and threw out another Soul-Funky doozy. Highlights include the right-on, right-on "(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away" and the every body sing "Let’s Make A Better World". Funk lovers will dig the slow and sexy groove of (the pre Prince song-title) "R U 4 Real" and the drop-down cool bass-line of "What Comes Around (Goes Around)" with its lovely brass fills. A rare moment of pain comes in the slow drag of "Me – You = Loneliness" where Mac recalls places he can’t go anymore – I’d suggest this album isn’t one of them. For me after the scrappiness of the first few albums - "Desitively Bonaroo" ends the box set on a high.

Yet despite the pretty repro artwork, the perceived cool of the man and the truly excellent upgraded audio on titles that have too long languished in the reissue nether world – I've never thought Dr. John's actual music catalogue on Atco a long litany of masterpieces that some claim it is (hence the four stars).

But make no splintered mistake - this is a fantastic and reasonably priced 'dip in and enjoy' Box Set - and The Night Tripper deserves no less.

"I Been Hoodooed" baby – and frankly "Mama Roux" - I like it...

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