Thursday, July 17, 2008

This is one of those records you're simply destined to come across at some point in your life if you consider yourself to be somewhat of an enthusiast for left-field music. Much like, say, Skip Spence's Oar, Can's Tago Mago and the works of Fela Kuti and Serge Gainsbourg, it remains one of those de rigeur purchases at one point in your life. If you're on a Dr. John trip at the age of 15, then you're streets ahead of me; myself, I see the age of discovery for a Dr. John fan being somewhere in the twenties, most likely mid- to late-, though perhaps I'm just prejudging everyone else's experiences by my own. Not a day goes by when I don't pull out a record from the rack and wonder why on earth I didn't put it in that pesky Top 100 Albums Of All Time list I keep boring y'all with. This is the kinda shit a man can lose sleep over, fer chrissakes! For instance, consider these omissions:

Cabaret Voltaire - The Mix-Up
Saccharine Trust - We Became Snakes
Boredoms - Super Ae
The Ex and Tom Cora - Scrabbling At the Lock
Mulatu Astatke - Ethiopiques volume 4
Yo La Tengo - Painful
Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson
Feelies - The Good Earth
Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska
Neu! - s/t
Fairport Convention - Liege & Leaf
James "Blood" Ulmer - Tales Of Captain Black
X - X-Aspirations
Seeds - s/t
Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombones
Dinosaur Jr. - You're Living All Over Me
Junior Kimbrough - Sad Days Lonely Nights
Universal Congress Of - s/t
Everly Brothers - Roots
Gun Club - Miami
Melvins - Ozma
Dogbowl - Tit! (an opera)
Soft Machine - 1st or 2nd album
Grifters - One Sock Missing
Pell Mell - Star City

Great albums - all of 'em - but the line's been drawn, and maybe one day when I pen one of those ultra-tedious 10,000 Albums You Just Gotta Hear Before You Croak anthologies which every MOJO/Q/Uncut writer has on the shelves these days, you'll get the full story. Until then, every few months you'll hear this same conversation from me. Dr. John, AKA Mac Rebennack, had already been kicking around the scene in New Orleans for a decade as a session gun-for-hire before Gris-Gris. I guess the spirit of the times got the better of him, and thus he released this acid-damaged masterpiece on Atco in '68 to a generally befuddled and/or disinterested public. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there's been many a smoke-filled dorm room w/ the sounds of Gris-Gris pumping the air ever since (and back then a screwball FM artist such as Dr. John could still make a dent w/ his eccentricities), though I doubt it was a whopping commercial success. The good Doctor never saw the real hits happen 'til "Right Place Wrong Time" went Top 10 in '73 or so (a song I only really know of because of its inclusion on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack), but all of this probably isn't that relevant. What's relevant for now are Dr. John's first four albums: this, as well as Babylon ('69), Remedies ('70) and The Sun, Moon and Herbs ('71). Folks say the next few albums are pretty gosh-darn good, too, though I've never made that leap. Gris-Gris remains the perfect combo of swampified American deep roots music mixed up w/ mystic mumbo-jumbo and drug-damaged psychedelia. Jeffrey Lee Pierce used this schtick to great effect w/ the Gun Club, though his cocktail was like an LA punk/Dr. John combo, diluted a little further from the source (now sit down, kids, I still love the guy!). Ultimately, Dr. John was just a white session dude who struck paydirt w/ a concocted persona ripe for the times, much like Tom Waits, but it fit him like a pink frilly glove and we're all the better for it. His creepy-old-sage vocals combined w/ a blend of acoustic guitars, bongos, flute, sax and romping New Orleans rhythms is the shit for the ages. Like I said: de rigeur. You know you will check this out at some stage. If not already, best make it sooner rather than later.


Pig State Recon said...

I sorta like this record too, but it has a kind of post-exotica, Arthur Lyman-goes-Cajun vibe about it that doesn't date well to these ears.

Hey: didn't Jeffrey and THE GUN CLUB actually cover a song off this?

Anonymous said... can you omit Soft Machine's Third in favour of first or second???

Dave said...

There's a track on the Gun Club's second album, a track called...umm... is it "Watermelon Man"? It sounds EXACTLY like Dr. John, but it ain't a Dr. John track, just a good appropriation of the man's schtick.

How could I list Soft Machine 1 and 2 and omit 3? Dunno, it was pretty easy. I like 3 just fine, but I like 1 and 2 better. Nothin' to lose sleep over!

Pig State Recon said...

Speaking of which: when are you gonna blog about Springsteen? That's a post I'm dying to read.

Dave said...

I've been thinkin' of a Springsteen thread for a while... lemme see if I can pull it out of my hat.

Anonymous said...

This record is cool but Babylon... Oh lord, that's amazing.

Dave said...

JWD: been flogging Babylon and Remedies quite a bit lately. You got a point: Babylon IS amazing, and probably a better disc than Gris-Gris. Those first two tracks... oh boy, they are the shit.