Dr. John ‘Remedies’ / ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’ 2CD (BGO) 3/5

Mack Rebbeneck aka Dr. John was just starting to make head waves with the two albums contained within this re-issue, and in the case of ‘Remedies’ (1970) it was never originally intended for release in its less than pristine sound quality and Dr. John was unhappy that the album was released in its unfinished state. That being the case, for long-term fans of the Dr. John sound, this will nonetheless be a welcome addition on CD, coupled with the much vaunted 1974 album, ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’, which is far better regarded and a part of that classic series of albums that he cut in the early to mid-1970s.

To these ears, ‘Remedies’ does seem to have dated somewhat and is not on a par with the psychedelic masterpiece and exploration of the New Orleans underground world that is the album ‘Gris, Gris’. On the blues-inflected, ‘Loop Garoo’, the Night Tripper draws into the historical legacy of New Orleans with a blues excursion, while there is a venture into a more pop-flavoured R & B groove in, ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’, which is a little too cheesy for these ears. Far more satisfying and authentically New Orleans is ‘Mardi Gras Dig’, which is precisely the kind of feel one might expect from a festival of the Crescent City’s music, with a lovely a-cappella intro and some soulful backing vocals. Of most interest from a historical perspective is ‘Angola Anthem’, in reference to the conditions in the Angola penitentiary, which was a prison farm situated in Louisiana.

For the Allen Toussaint produced second album, Dr. John is backed by The Meters and this is far more representative of what has come to be known as the classic Night Tripper sound. Not only is the production infinitely more polished, but it is a logical progression from the excellent ‘In The Right Place’ from a year previous. It is a more varied and, ultimately, a more successful recording, with the fine R & B of ‘Mos’ Scocious’, some gospel hues in ‘Let’s Make A Better World’, a lovely soulful groove in ‘R U 4 Real’ (did Prince copy that lettering format by chance?) and, arguably, strongest of all, ‘Everybody Wanna Get Rich Rite Away’, that is at once thought-provoking and catchy. Quite simply, ‘Desitively Bonnaroo’, has a good deal more universal appeal and is less focused on the voodoo side of New Orleans culture.

For those in search of the classic albums in a single location, a budget price five CD box set does exist, but otherwise, this pairing does fill in part of the early picture of an artist whose fascinating and at times turbulent life is well worth investigating further.

Tim Stenhouse