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Preview: Dr. John

Noah Bonaparte Pais on the original swamp doctor

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Be honest, Jazz Fest Big Chiefs and OffBeat subscribers: At this time last year, a show of hands on whether Mac Rebennack had an album like Locked Down (Nonesuch) in him would have resulted in one four-fingered vote in the affirmative. (You can lower your arm, Dan Auerbach — your credit is forthcoming.) No matter how much witch-doctoring and hoodoo moon-raking is in their rear-view, septuagenarian musicians typically don't conjure the best record of their career out of thick, humid air. Reasonable people can (and certainly will) disagree, but Locked Down is my pick for the top Louisiana release of 2012 and the initial line in Dr. John's legendary oeuvre — notwithstanding the Gris-Gris '60s, Gumbo '70s, potboiler '80s, burnt-roux '90s and Blue Note rehabilitation of the last decade. The first side in particular rocks like a capsized ark and rolls like a five-sided die: Black Key master Auerbach filling every nook and cranny with smoked-out horns and interloping guitar, poking the bear with agitative percussion and animalistic ambience; Rebennack answering in turn with roiling organs and an absolutely possessed vocal performance, skipping expected Night Tripper caricatures to go trawling with the night crawlers, calling out "religious delusions" and "stoned confusions" in all manner of honking howls and phlegm-clearing growls. After five decades and several more states of mind, he finally got the right place and the right time. Tickets $40, $90 balcony seating. — Noah Bonaparte Pais

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