Album honoring Dr. John proves to be a winner
Various artists, “The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac and His Music” (Concord Records)
Many tribute concerts turn into solemn events, even when the person being honored is still among the living, but that wouldn’t be possible when the subject being honored is as raucous as Dr. John, who over the decades has come to be regarded as the very embodiment of New Orleans’ soul, and when he’s very much alive and commanding the keyboards with his usual strut and swagger.
What makes this live set “The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac and His Music” so extraordinary is not just Dr. John’s commanding presence, but the range and variety of guests performing songs either written, recorded or popularized by him over a career that now spans six decades.
Present to celebrate “Mac” — Mac Rebennack is his real name, and used on many of his production credits — are giants like Bruce Springsteen, Mavis Staples, John Fogerty and a host of others. The performances are easygoing and relaxed, the guitar work sometimes searing, and the horns and keyboards constantly giving the set a bayou sense of time and place. It’s a New Orleans sound that Dr. John has distilled over time, combining so many into something uniquely his own.
Springsteen and Dr. John breathe fresh life into one of his first hits, “Right Time Wrong Place,” and Monk Boudreaux helps make “Big Chief” into a delight. Cyril Neville and Aaron Neville take separate memorable turns, and the late Allen Toussaint chimes in with a delicious “It’s Life.”
There are a few clunkers in here, including several of the slower songs, but overall this one moves. The swing seems effortless — a pleased Dr. John pronounced it “spiritually correct.”