Thursday, April 1, 2010
Dr. John - Gris-Gris (1968)
Dr. John's first solo album is a psychedelic tour de force of the Louisiana voodoo variety. From the murky production, sludgy tempos, distant female backing vocals and African drumming, it's a listening experience almost akin to a balmy night out in a swamp somewhere, complete with will o' the wisps and black magic rituals.
The music is hypnotic in it's slowness and repetition, and the tasteful use of mandolins, flutes and saxophones lends interest without stealing the show. Despite Dr. John's reputation as a piano powerhouse, there is no keyboard virtuosity to be heard here. Instead, he smartly restricts his playing to essential rhythmic patterns and coloristic touches, never overpowering the general group dynamic. "Croker Coutbullion" features a prominent harpsichord part, which is somewhat bizarre for a New Orleans band, but then again the whole record is somewhat bizarre and it ends up being one of the album's best tracks, so I'm not complaining.
The album is most successful when it sticks to non-melodic swamp ambiance combined with minimalist chanting and animal sound effects, as on "Danse Kalimba Ba Doom" or the masterful closer "I Walk on Gilded Splinters." Unfortunately, it falls a little flat when attempting more traditional song structures ("Mam Roux.")
After this, Dr. John would veer increasingly towards straightforward blues, and while there are a number of enjoyable voodoo moments on his next few albums, he would never again embrace the concept so wholeheartedly as he does here. Definately something worth checking out for the psychedelia fan in search of something a little different.