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Creole Fonk

Dr. John - Creole Moon
(Blue Note Records)
3 1/2 Stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: February 4, 2002

Dr. John

By Tony Bonyata

Although this album had been on his mind for years - with some of the original material ending up on his brilliant 1998 album Anutha Zone, Dr. John (aka Mac Rebennack) recently got around to finishing Creole Moon, a spirited collection of songs that captures the vibrancy and diverse culture of his former hometown, New Orleans.
The cover of the album, which features eerie paintings of Marie Laveau and Dr. John, two of the most infamous practitioners of New Orleans' voodoo (the latter whom Rebennack nicked his stage moniker from), would lead one to believe that this is an extension of the devilish stew concocted from Anutha Zone. But from the first spin it's apparent that rather than focusing on a music that summons up the dark voodoo world of southern Louisiana, a sound that he helped create on his swampy, psychedelic 1968 debut Gris-Gris, he's instead happy to revel out in the streets with the good people of New Orleans.
While there's still a ghostly air here, such as the bone-rattling incantations of "Bruha Bembe," it's the raw, upbeat funk (or "fonk" as the good doctor more aptly describes) of New Orleans that maps out the direction of this parade. From the the call-and-response background singers on the raucous opener "You Swore" and "One 2 A.M. Too Many, " both co-written with the late Doc Pomus, as well as the gritty "Now That You Got Me" and the humorous moralistic tale of "Monkey & Baboon," where John warns about the dangers of leading a life of crime through popular cartoon characters, such as Yogi , Boo-Boo, Magilla and Heckle and Jeckle, this 61-year old legend still manages to keep it real.
But Dr. John, along with his Lower 911 band - guitarist Renard Poche, bassist David Barad and drummer Herman Ernest III, also prove that funk and Super Bowl XXXVI aren't the only games in the Big Easy, as he smoothly slows down the pace on the modern blues standard "Imitation of Love" and the title track which melds a haunting melancholy piano with smoky sax before ending on a slightly more calypso note. He also adds a tropical Caribbean breeze to "Litenin'" and a spicy Cuban groove to the jazzy "Queen of Cold."
Although still practitioning the voodoo sounds of Louisiana's swamplands, this doctor has taken a little time off on Creole Moon to let his hair down and join in with the street party. And with Mardi Gras less than a week away, his timing couldn't be better.

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