Dr. John, Locked Down. For 45 years, Dr. John has lived on his own island of musical liberation. Started as a fellowship of New Orleans musicians living in exile in Los Angeles, Mac Rebennack created the Dr. John character for singer Ronnie Barron. Put when push came to heart palpitations, Barron bailed and Rebennack had to step into the flowing robes and front the frolics. It was like a French Quarter hootenanny on acid, and instantly created a whole new vibration in the free-flowing psychedelic '60s. Flash forward to 2012, and the Black Keys' singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach uses his new-found pull to produce a brand new Dr. John extravaganza. And oh what a fine trip into gris-gris gyrations it is.
Just a few moments into the opening song and it feels like the true throw-down back-of-town Dr. John has emerged from the foggy shadows of Tchoupitoulas Street in the Crescent City to reclaim the throne of voodoo rock and second-line roll. The beauty of this music is that no one else has ever been able to even closely approximate what Dr. John does, which means if he's not making it, it doesn't get made. And while there have been dozens of albums since his debut release in 1968, not many have captured the spirit world like Locked Down does. This is prime time light-up-your-eyeballs sound, complete with twisting rhythms, curvalicious horn lines, croaky vocals, and irresistible freedom at the heart of what the players are putting down. There is just no way to say no to songs like "Big Shot," "Ice Age," and "Getaway."
Right along with all the fun, though, is a seriousness to these songs that shows what a modern philosophizer Dr. John continues to be. He's got the sacred stare of someone who, through a lot of his own self-admitted trickinations and street-level treachery, has been able to move on up and see the Big Picture. By the end of the album on "God's Sure Good," Dr. John says it all: "God's been good to me / better than me to myself / saved my soul / when it was all I had to sell / taught me a lesson / brought me a blessin' / God don't be guessin' / He sure don't." A flash of light runs through the music that is full of amen moments, the tight-knit players behind him hitting the groove like sonic warriors as the man that came into this world as Malcolm Rebennack throws his musical beads into a world that needs them probably more than they even know. The gris-gris gumbo ya ya has landed.
Joachim Cooder, Love on a Real Train. Sometimes it takes someone turning the page to come up with new music. Maybe figure out another way to create music, and not be afraid to take a chance on how it may or may not turn out. Joachim Cooder has had a first-row seat on just that kind of experimentation while watching his father Ry Cooder record soundtracks and make music with a veritable United Nations of artists. For his own debut, Joachim Cooder changed the channel. He would record instrumental pieces, and then send them to different people for them to finish, adding their own contributions to create a final song. He called them "space shells," and may have come across the future.
All of the results are, well, stunning, like Petra Haden's "Slowly in the Night Sky." Between them, she and Cooder may have come up with the modern answer to Enya, fashioning a sound that goes beyond music into the world of inspirational healing. Inara George's "Painted into Zoom," is a seductive joy, opening the door to a whole new world. Juliette Commagere's "Gold" captures a spell-binding time that begs for a whole album. Then there's Robert Francis' two contributions, and while they arrive a little from left field they also become quickly addictive, stretching the boundaries of an already mesmerizing style into uncharted land. Jon Hassell takes this journey to its final conclusion on "Shinkansen." To call Hassell a trumpet player doesn't come close to what he does with sound, and with Cooder he has created another majestic soundscape to add to his already impressive resume. Other fellow space shell cadets include Frank Lyon and Matt Costa.
Love on a Real Train goes where no one has quite gone before, or at least not like this. Along with Martin Pradler's studio and musical assistance, Joachim Cooder has found a way to collaborate and push what happens when people work together to a different place. On most of the songs, he wasn't there once he sent the music to the various artists. In our new technology-driven world, where communication often exists in the ozone of email, text messages, and tweets, maybe Cooder has discovered the new jam session. Just hit send, and let the fun begin.
Wes Montgomery, Echoes of Indiana Avenue. Talk about buried treasure, these recordings were done in 1957 and '58, before guitarist Wes Montgomery stepped into the national spotlight and changed the course of jazz guitar. The album could easily be subtitled "Portrait of the Guitarist as a Young Man," and come from early club and studio dates in Montgomery's Indianapolis hometown. He had been slowly making a name for himself on bandstands around the city, but was yet to venture much beyond. Hearing how accomplished he is here, it's clear he's right around the corner from making waves.
Wes Montgomery was born into a musical family, and gravitated to the guitar from the start. His early hero, Charlie Christian, provided the path forward, as Montgomery learned about jazz guitar from listening to records featuring the guitar kingpin. Because he practiced so much at home Montgomery had to put the guitar pick down and play with his thumb. That changed his sound considerably, and to make up for the quietness he learned how to play the melody line in two different registers simultaneously. Voila — Wes Montgomery was soon to his mark on the jazz cosmos. The early albums starting in 1959 spread the word in the music community, and by the mid-'60s he moved into the pop world on releases like Goin' Out of My Head and A Day in the Life. And then Montgomery was dead in 1968.That's where this album comes in.
A collection of unissued Wes Montgomery tapes were advertised on eBay in 2008, and after passing through a few hands ended up with producer Michael Cuscuna. He had the good sense to find the right home for them on Resonance Records, and through the power of the proper sound restoration it's like stumbling into a time warp to hear a musician as they step onto the launching pad of a major career. Montgomery's guitar genius is all there, swinging and sweet and full of life. He performs standards like "Round Midnight," "Misty," "Body and Soul," and "Darn that Dream" with such beauty and ability that it feels like peeking in a window on the dawn of greatness. Wonders like this are few and far between, which means for jazz lovers this is one for the ages. Echoes indeed.