Out now: new releases from Dr. John, Benjamin Booker


Benjamin Bookerfeatured in this week's Gambit cover story — arrived in New Orleans two years ago, and his self-titled debut album for ATO Records is out today, Aug. 19. 

Benjamin Booker is Booker's discovery of the blues and gospel (via WWOZ) filtered through a post-adolescent punk brain. Lo-fi demos of chugging blues numbers gave Booker a chance to flex his newly discovered gift of a voice, a smoke-rattled, throaty, note-sensitive whisper-growl not unlike that of blues greats before him. With his first record, those songs come to life as hot-blooded, organ-driven rock 'n' roll demons, though his quiet, folk and gospel-influenced arrangements show an incredible restraint and patience unique for an untested (but already road-weary) new artist.

Standout mid-album track (and current single) "Have You Seen My Son" pummels forward with a Chuck Berry rhythm while Booker sings about his dissolve "all the way from Florida down to New Orleans."

"It's still the most representative song of what I want to do," Booker told Gambit, "that mixture of punk and gospel and R&B and all these things I grew up listening to."

For Dr. John's latest, the good doctor turned to Louis Armstrong. Or rather, Armstrong turned to the doctor. "Louis came to me in a dream and told me to do his music but do it my way," he told Gambit earlier this year. "This next record is going to be one funky-butt tribute to Louis Armstrong."

The album, Ske-Dat-De-Dat...The Spirit Of Satch, also is out today on Concord Records.

John performs 13 songs made famous by Satchmo, including a lively "Wonderful World" and a rich, funky "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," with Ledisi and the McCrary Sisters lending it a gospel touch. Other album guests include Bonnie Raitt, Anthony Hamilton, Shemekia Copeland, Arturo Sandoval and the Blind Boys of Alabama, as well as locals Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, Wendell Brunious, James Andrews and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

Nite Trippers trombonist Sarah Morrow helped arrange the album, and her offbeat arrangements of familiar tracks show off not only Mac's "still got it"ness but that time has been kind to Armstrong. The classics are still classics, and Mac certainly does them his way, as Armstrong supposedly summoned him to do.

But why now? Armstrong's relevance (and, for that matter, John's, who is 73) are often the subject du jour, but the arrangements on The Spirit of Satch prove the trickle-down of influence, and the vitality and timelessness of New Orleans music, while also proving the cliche "showing something new from older songs." John proved his own with Locked Down, showing that he can still play ball with (and dominate) younger artists who are rehashing what he invented. With his latest, he's showing he's still one of the best, and who to credit.

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