Thursday, May 31, 2007

Dr. John - Gris-Gris


It would be impossible to replicate this record with the same magic that went into it. Dr. John's a name I'd heard and ignored for a number of years; I'd assumed he was a New Orleans blues musician I'd never get into, so I let him and his beard be. Of course, I didn't realize until a few years ago that the blues was actually a great genre, nor was it until a year or two ago when I read that the Greg Ashley I favor so strongly named his band the Gris Gris after this very album, making my acceptance of this not-quite-blues record a case of the musician influencing the fan in a very fortunate way.

Gris-Gris is an album that could only come from New Orleans in the late 1960s. It's an essentially unclassifiable experience that mashes voodoo and romance, old-fashioned jam sessions and storytelling, chants and harmonies into a bewitching brew. Even at a typical length of forty minutes, these seven tracks pass quickly thanks to the variety of events that take place within this adventure of an album. Opening track “Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya” is simply perfect; it's a place where Dr. John introduces himself as the night tripper with a satchel of gris gris in hand and remedies of every description, from “controlling heart get-together drops” to “easy-life rub.” God only knows where the night tripper thought up a story like this, outside of drugs, New Orleans tradition, or both, but the way his voice cracks, rasps and fails to enunciate each consonant makes it a soothing topper to the soft guitar work and female harmonies of “gris-gris gumbo ya ya” that resonate throughout.

Each song on this record is completely different from the last, and once Dr. John's introduced himself, we get “Danse Kalinda Ba Doom,” which contains only a continuous title chant and sounds to have a bit of a root in Afro-Caribbean percussion. This is followed up by the lazy latin-style bounce of “Mama Roux,” and if you read the lyrics within the liner notes as you're listening along, you finally realize that Dr. John improvises about a third of his lyrics as he plays; this is also the case with “Danse Fambeaux,” a psychedelic funk number about the limbo that's full of grunts, hisses and ba-doom, ba-doom, ba-dooms. Gris-Gris is a great record that will never be made again.


Dr. John - Gris-Gris Gumbo Ya Ya
Purchase Gris-Gris.

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