When: Sun., June 10, 7 p.m. 2012
I was disappointed when I first heard Dr. John's latest album, Locked Down (Nonesuch)—based on some of the advance press I'd read and the fact that Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced the record, I'd expected the New Orleans music patriarch otherwise known as Mac Rebennack to reclaim his swampy, psychedelic Night Tripper persona from the late 60s. Once I got over the fact that it wasn't happening, though, I could recognize that this is his best, most energized album in decades. Supported by a nimble, hard-hitting band, Dr. John sticks mostly to Farfisa and electric piano, playing terse, sometimes spooky licks over grooves informed equally by American R&B and decades-old African pop. Nothing could take the Crescent City out of Rebennack's soulful, instantly recognizable croak, but it sounds totally fresh in the new surroundings of Locked Down: honking baritone sax propels "Revolution," which also has an undertone of early-70s Ethiopian soul, and "Eleggua" collides voodoo chants and breakbeat funk. In a New York Times story published in March, Auerbach said that he encouraged Rebennack to write songs from outside his Dr. John persona, and on the gorgeous closer, "God's Sure Good," he tips his hat to the Almighty for all the good fortune he's enjoyed in spite of himself. It's rare that a veteran musician allows an upstart to give him a jolt, but in this case it seems simply to have reminded Dr. John how to do what he does better than anyone else. Tonight's concert will certainly feature music from the new album, but because Rebennack will be backed by his regular working band, the Lower 911, I'd expect a stronger and sunnier New Orleans vibe. —Peter Margasak Iron & Wine headlines.