Dr. John – Things Happen That Way
I remember the early days — Dr. John the Night Tripper (1941-2022). Peculiar voice, outlandish fashion, with eccentric originality. “This isn’t going to last long.”
Ah…but he did. He started to have hits “Right Place, Wrong Time,” & “Such a Night,” (not the Elvis song). What Dr. John did effectively created a persona that was entertaining, talented & original. Much the same as Tom Waits, Captain Beefheart & Leonard Cohen. Weird doesn’t translate into novelty when there’s talent embedded in your fingers. As Dr. John had. He was indeed a genre-bending musician.
Like the late Joe Cocker, Dr. John over a period won the respect of the masses (not just the counter-culture audience). He became widely known, accepted, recognized & endearing. He could play & had character with style. The entertainer came last. Many songs are ironic on his last CD – in how they’re in some way related entirely to his final song & how “time slips away.” This may be 77-year-old Malcolm John Rebennack Jr’s last studio recording but it’s a document of beauty. A 6-decade career doesn’t sustain itself with luck. Dr. John is a 6-time Grammy-award winner. He leaves behind a catalog & a legacy.
The 10-song, 39-minute Things Happen That Way (Dropped Sept 23–Rounder/Concord) was co-produced by Dr. John (vocals/piano) with Shane Theriot (electric/baritone, acoustic, bass & resonator guitars/lap steel/percussion). Some were produced by Lukas Nelson (vocal/guitar). Executive producer Karla R. Pratt.
Dr. John’s interpretive skills were pristine. He understood the value of melody, lyrics & arrangement married to feeling with just the right twist of Dr. John’s personality added. Fortunately, many legends like Dr. John had the timepiece together final works with grace, skill & quality. Leon Russell did it with Elton John, John Martyn, Glen Campbell (“Ghost On the Canvas”) & even pop singer Bobby Vee (Velline) who Bob Dylan worked with as a pianist — made a final Americana LP “The Adobe Sessions.”
Now, not everything works, but Dr. John never turned in anything substandard. He tries his best to satisfy many ears. The best are the forays into something closer to home – “Holy Water,” is a prodigious cut. The voice was seasoned nicely. This recording is filled with expressive thrust. Great musicianship, backing & duet vocals all well produced with a stitched lyric insert.
Highlights – “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “Ramblin’ Man,” “I Walk On Gilded Splinters,” (excellent), “Guess Things Happen That Way,” (prophetic).
Musicians: Willie Nelson (vocals/guitar solo – “Gimme That Old Time Religion), Aaron Neville & Katie Pruitt (vocals – “End of the Line”), Tony Hall, Will Lee & Corey McCormick (bass), Carlo Nuccio, Anthony Logerfo & Herlin Riley (drums), David Torkanowsky (Wurlitzer piano), Mark Mullins (trombone/horn arrangements), Alonzo Bowens (tenor sax), Leon Brown (trumpet), Yoland Robinson, Jolynda Chapman & Matthew Breaux (bgv), John Cleary (B3 organ/Keys) & Logan Metz ( keys/lap steel).
Studio color image: Jason Villemarette & B&W smiling image: Sandrine Lee.
Thank you & RIP Dr. John. Will miss you.
& Rounder/Bandcamp – https://rounderrecords.bandcamp.com/album/things-happen-that-way + Amazon.