Various ‘The Musical Mojo Of Dr. John: Celebrating Mac And His Music’ 2CD or separate 2CD + DVD Limited Edition (Concord) 4/5

A stalwart of the New Orleans music scene for some six decades. Dr. John is fully deserving of a tribute to his musical craft and this atmospheric live recording capturing an evening’s entertainment at the Saenger Theatre in the Crescent City does justice, both to the songwriting talents of the singer-songwriter and his prowess as a pianist. It cuts across musical boundaries to incorporate R & B, funk, jazz and blues, but above all else it is foot-stomping good music to embolden the soul. The impressive array of musicians bears testimony to Dr. John’s standing among his contemporaries and includes the late Allen Toussaint, members of the Meters, the Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, not forgetting Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers and regular keyboardist for the Rolling Stones), and jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Of course, Dr, John himself does perform on various numbers, especially his most popular songs, but Leavell does a fine job of performing in his pianistic place elsewhere. A full brass section including members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band do a sterling job of backing up the tight rhythm section and New Orleans music would be nothing without its individualistic brass contribution. Blue Note label boss and musician Don Was provides the bass line grooves.

An opening statement of intent comes with the 1973 hit single, ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’, on which Dr, John and Bruce Springsteen duet on vocals and this adds a grittier side to the song. Of note throughout the live performance are the wonderful background harmonies of the McCrarys who are outstanding on the call and response vocals with Cyrille Neville on, ‘My Indian Red’. The listener is transported back to the R & B era of Fats Domino on ‘New Orleans’ with lead vocals and full band from John Fogerty. Former Meters members George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste cook up a musical storm on the funky uptempo gumbo groove of, ‘Junko Partner’, while gospel-inflected R & B is offered up from Mavis Staples on, ‘Lay My Burden Down’, which is a definite concert highlight, and from Aaron Neville on the relaxed and jazzy tones of, ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’, with brother Charles wailing on saxophone.

If it is groove-laden music that you are in search of, then the late Allen Toussaint ranks with the very greatest of them and ‘Life’ is a typically understated and dignified number that must be one of the very last songs the singer-songwriter, producer and arranger ever recorded. A moodier and soulful atmosphere is created by Irma Thomas on, ‘Since I Fell For You’, while in marked contrast, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux interprets one of the staple songs of the New Orleans songbook in, ‘Big Chief’, complete with funky keyboard riff and punchy brass. That Dr. John is a gifted pianist/keyboardist is showcased on the gentle-paced, ‘Rain’, on which he duets with New Orleans trumpeter and Spike Lee’s musical director, Terence Blanchard. In fact the music contained within this special evening undergoes myriad mood changes and in an uptempo and uplifting tempo comes Group Widespread and horn section members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band who lay down a percussive near ten minute take on, ‘Familiar Reality’.

Ending off the evening’s proceedings on a high, Dr. John duets with trombonist Sarah Morrow on two of his most endearing compositions, ‘I Walk On Guilded Splinters’ and ‘Such a Night’, both of which receive a rapturous reception and rightly so. Crème de la crème musicians abound here, but the constant presence of a regular band keeps this from turning into an all-stars wash out that fails to deliver.

Tim Stenhouse