We all got an early present from the Easter Bunny this week in the form of the widely anticipated new record from Dr. John. Mac’s new record titled “Locked Down” was one of the only records in April that I had circled and highlighted on my calendar. It’s not just because it’s new music from The Nite Tripper, but because one of my other favorite artists, Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) played an instrumental part in honing it’s tone, sound, and final production.
I’ve been listening to Dr. John courtesy of my pops since I was a kid still running around in my rubber footed onesies. One of the first records my dad ever spun for me was “Right Place, Wrong Time”. To this day, the harpsichord, congos, and horns makeup one my all time favorite intros. Of course right in the middle of the song, there’s that big bad organ just laying down for him in the break. Magical bruh. As I grew older and became more obsessed with our New Orleans musical history, I began to get strung out on The Meters. Little did I know, The Meters were the backing band for Dr. John on the eponymous “In the Right Place”.
Of course everyone knows Iko Iko and Right Place, Wrong time, but the one track that stands out above all the rest of his is “I Walk On Guilded Splinters”. There’s no mistaking the singer from anyone other than Dr. John and from no other place besides New Orleans. The beat is congo square with a tinge of Angel Heart. Just intoxicating.
Fast forward 30+ years, and Dr. John has re-invented himself once again with his latest, “Locked Down”. Some people have said out of the gate that the record sounds “vintage”, but in my opinion I think it’s just good ‘ole Mac stretching his legs and giving us a ride on a train that I never want to get off of.
Late last year I read a snippet in Rolling Stone about the “Superjam” that went down at Bonaroo with Dr. John and Dan Aurbarch. I just about fell out of the chair when I read that and was green with envy. Soon after, there were rumblings of Dan coming on to record and produce Mac’s new record under Nonesuch. Stoked would be an understatement.
So here we are, and in less than 24 hours, I’ve developed a temporary case of cauliflower ear from listening to this record so much. Each track is tight, multi-faceted, and sweats cool. Of course the title track is the real standout, but the dark horse of the bunch, and my favorite thus far is “Big Shot”. Growing up in NOLA, I remember pool parties as a kid sipping on Big Shot grape soda, and this reminds me of the Big Shot man on the label. The song saunters like a big shot walking head tall through the streets of the quarter with his own brand of swag.
The true brilliance of this record lies in what’s not there…his piano. Don’t get me wrong, Dr. John is an ivory master, but the lack of his most well known instrument is refreshing and breathtaking. While listening to “Getaway”, I’m transported to the lush land of syncopation, covered in layers upon layers of tone and soul.
“Locked Down” may have been recorded in Nashville, but Dan Auerbach did a masterful job of capturing the oozing NOLA goodness that is Dr. John’s voice, essence, and soul. If there was a soundtrack of life, several songs on this record would certainly make it into my own playlist. Dr. John has it on lock for sure. Go out and get you some y’all!