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Great Albums You May Have Missed: Dr John's Gris-Gris (1968)
With Jazzfest 2011 on the horizon it is time to creep into the voodoo night, just before dawn and catch a Crescent City treasure when he was still a mystical mix of Cajun, beatnik and shaman. Dr. John The Night Trippers Gris-Gris is an album that needs to be experienced.
Back in 1968 the Dr was a different being all together; he was developing a character that would be timeless, The Night Tripper.
Born Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack Jr. he started working up this solo act which combined a bit of the hippy, the voodoo, and R&B cultures into one freaky figure, not unlike the fantastic Screamin' Jay Hawkins. He took the name "Dr. John" from Dr John Montaine, Voodoo King of the 19th Century who is entwined with his cities history. However Mac wasn't unaware of the changing youth culture and added some psychedelic overtones to go along with the Rhythm and Blues music he adored...what came out of this boiling cauldron was Gris-Gris.
From the first track, appropriately titled "Gris-Gris Gumbo," we are treated to the bubbling horns and strings over a rumbling drum while The Night Tripper introduces himself as a Voodoo Priest, ready to cure all ills with what's in his sack. The echoing background vocals set the late night mood and when the song sounds as if it is disappearing into the gloom, a trumpet will squeal or drum will bang to remind that you haven't transcended... yet.
If ever there was a song (full album really) to put on with the lights off and candles lit this is it. You will transported directly into the swamps.
The second track doesn't even contain any vocals from The Night Tripper and instead sets the mood over violin strings chanting and rhythmic drumbeat. After the introduction of "Gris-Gris Gumbo," "Danse Kalinda Ba Doom" makes it clear this is no ordinary audio outing.
"Mama Roux" takes the topics of Medicine Men and 2nd lines but lays it over a funky beat that grooves and wouldn't have been out of place in a disco at the time. Perhaps the most straightforward track here, it assures listeners they haven't lost their minds after the first few tracks.
With its heavy bass and smoky chants "Danse Fambeaux" brings the strange southern dance forward as bells chime and layers of singing encompasses. "Croker Courtbullion" leaves you feeling like you drank one of the Dr.'s potions as vocals swirl and flutes soothe only to be roughed up by underlying tension of a harpsichord. The instrumentation all over the album is hypnotic, it can become impossible to tell which is exactly what when immersed in the song and that is a sign of some great overall production and a nod to the arraignments of Harold Battiste.
"Jump Sturdy" struts her swampy stuff right down St. Charles Avenue. With her funky walk crazy attitude and banjo strums "Jump Sturdy" isn't afraid to mix a bit of soulful stew into the Creole jambalaya of an album.
To close Dr. John and his crew present their best tune which escorts the listener out of the murky bayou and into the great beyond, "I Walk On Guilded Splinters." Hand drums swirling background vocals that slither from speaker to speaker, this track sums it all up and opens the ears for even more as the potentate Doctor casts spells with his playing and singing. There is something otherworldly contained in this track, its that same vibe that permeates all of Gris-Gris, making it an album you cannot miss.
IN THE NYPL CATALOG:
Gris-Gris by Dr. John The Night Tripper
To Preview some great tracks from Gris-Gris, click the links below:
Please Note: online audio tracks are an excellent source for previewing, but are compressed and do not match CD quality audio.