Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Portfolio entry Part 3 (Dr. John)

The end of a trio of CD reviews recognized by the New Jersey Newspaper Association in 1999. This one could be the closer that prompted VH1 to contact me in March 2000. The network tapped me to be among 300 other critics nationwide to offer 50 suggestions for a "Top 100 Rock and Roll Movies of All-Time" special. Sadly, I don't believe the countdown was made.

This review appeared on page B2 of The Daily Journal in Vineland, N.J., on Sept. 19, 1998.

Headline: Dr. John's "Anutha Zone" will put a spell on you

By Todd Norden
Staff writer

Name: "Anutha Zone"
Artist: Dr. John
Label: Virgin Records

From the moment Dr. John opens his latest recording with the brief, downcast piano solo "Zonata," the listener is transported to some lonesome, smoky dive found in some foggy Louisiana swamp.

Blending Creole and pop like a bewitching shaman, John (a.k.a. Malcolm Rebennack) has an enduring, magical touch that stirs the imagination and cleanses the soul.

Feel the snakes slither between your muddy toes on the sinewy "Ki Ya Gris Gris." Its funky bayou rhythms, accompanied by slapping congas, effectively put the album's juju in motion. Note the crazed South Louisiana field holla by percussionist Herman Ernst, too.

"Voices In My Head" has a catchy, but diffused, power-rock vibe to it, and it's boosted by brass inflections from The Kick Horns.

How do he do the voodoo that he do? Wish I knew.

But Dr. John's charm is almost formulaic. His appeal rests in that scruffy Southern cadence, paired with a jolly piano meter during the chorus and stream of trumpet toots. It's a classic combination that makes "Voices In My Head" and the title cut swing.

John's a clever songwriter, too. "Hello God" has the artist chatting with The Man Upstairs as if the two were sitting on the front porch. Its lazy groove and wah-wah guitar contrasts its soaring chorus and playful keys. And the grammatical travesty "Why Come" is a platform for John's jive-talkin' romp. When John fusses in his phlegm-soaked growl about why boss spelled backward is "double s-o-b" and warns people on the lookout for #1 to watch out because you might step into #2, you just hafta admit this is freakin' cool.

The dull "Party Hellfire" and a bland, quizzical ode to history, "The Olive Tree," hex "Anutha Zone." But there are heaps of dazzle and musical integrity here to make the album a scintillating and worthwhile buy.

Keep on keepin' on Dr. John.

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