Album Review: Dr. John - Locked Down

by Bill DeVille

New Orleans has a great tradition of piano men including legendary figures like Professor Longhair, Allen Toussaint, James Booker and Fats Domino. Perhaps the Big Easy's greatest living practitioner is Dr. John who has returned with his best album of the post-Katrina era, Locked Down.

I think this album is his finest since 1998's Anutha Zone, which boasted guests including Paul Weller, members of Portishead, Spiritualized, Primal Scream and Supergrass. On the current album, Dr. John adds to the list of young hipsters with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys who produced the album, sang a few harmonies and added his bluesy guitar to several tracks. Auerbach totally unleashes his badass guitar on the track, "Getaway."

As a longtime fan of both Dr. John and The Black Keys, I've been looking forward to this one for some time. Dr. John's profile has been boosted a bit with his appearances as himself in the HBO series Treme. And The Black Keys, who have a Target Center show set for May 15th, are about the hottest rock band in the land.

Locked Down is a perfect match! The album is more personal than your typical Dr. John fare. Auerbach has mentioned that he wanted Dr. John to talk from the Mac Rebennack perspective (Dr. John's real name), as opposed to his stage personae, and Auerbach succeeded in bringing out the Dr. you've always wanted. Lyrically, the album addresses the seedy side of life that Dr. John has operated in. His drug addiction was chronicled in his 1995 book, Under a Hoodoo Moon, but not much in his songs until now.

On the title track, he sings about the prison system, and in one of the album highlights, "Ice Age," he sings of the evils of hustling drugs over some of the album's funkiest grooves. On "My Children, My Angels," he sings of being the absent father who was out on the road, and who tries to make amends. Dr. John has largely abandoned the piano in favor of retro keyboards which are all over the album's lead single, "Revolution," and which might be his best single since his '70s heyday.

Ultimately, what I like best about Locked Down is that it just sounds cool! It's greazy and funky and features plenty of Dr. John's signature N'awlins hoodoo voodoo thing which he's been doing since the '60s. He's part shaman and part Mardi Gras Indian, who has honed his craft on the wrong side of the tracks. But maybe the most exciting thing about this album is a new ingredient in the gumbo: African rhythms! You can hear Nigerian Afrobeat and '70s Ethiopian funk all over it!

Locked Down is a winner. Dan Auerbach and Dr. John work together like red beans and rice! Pick up a copy — there's plenty to go around!

Listen to Locked Down: