Dr. John – Locked Down
Maybe the worst thing that can happen to a seasoned music legend is, in his later years, to fall into the gilded paws of some champion producer skilled at dusting off all the personality that made anyone interesting to start with, lining up a pile of contemporary pop-star admirers, and then wheeling the old dude into the studio to record a bunch of shitty new songs – including the requisite duo with Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20. Don Was is usually the go-to guy for that sort of crap, and the Rick Rubins of the world have themselves discovered that not every ’50s relic is Johnny Cash.
It seems Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys has similar aspirations. Thankfully, he doesn’t fuck it up on Locked Down, which has at least as much to do with the vitality of Dr. John – aka Mac Rebennack – as with his guest producer’s choices. The worst thing you can say about their collaboration, which came out of a Bonnaroo brainstorm last summer, is that it tends to sound like Dr. John fronting the Black Keys. The best thing you can say about it is that, from song to song, it’s as good as anything the 71-year-old New Orleans genius has done since his glory years of “I Walk on Gilded Splinters” and “Right Place, Wrong Time.”
The outer space funk vibe that soaks through “Kingdom of Izness” and “Revolution” – with its Ethiopian horns and the Good Docta’s Farfisa organ solo from Mars – is a sound that is pure 4 a.m. St. Claude Ave. dive bar spirit talk. That said, Mac avoids his signature hoodoo-isms for the most part, conjuring his inner Swamp T’ing only on a couple of tunes, the voudon shout-out “Ellegua” and the rage-against-the-machine growler “Ice Age,” which slaps West African guitar rhythms under a feral growl that seems to honor Captain Beefheart, if only by accident. Buy this motherfucker and play it loud. It’ll make you feel good.