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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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City Lights

Verve 0602517686823





1. Dance The Night Away With You
2. Street Side
3. Wild Honey
4. Rain
5. Snake Eyes
6. Fire Of Love
7. Sonata/He's A Hero
8. City Lights
Dr. John - Vocals, keyboards
Steve Gadd - Drums
Will Lee - Bass
Richard Tee - Keyboards
Hugh McCracken, John Tropea - Guitars
Arthur Jenkins - Percussion
Charlie Miller - Cornet
Barry Rogers - Trombone
David Sanborn - Alto sax
George Young - Tenor sax
Ronnie Cuber - Baritone sax
Ronnie Barron, George Jones. Tammy Lynn, Alvin Robinson - Background vocals
Claus Ogerman - Strings arranger and conductor


Reissued in Universal's "Originals" series, this 1978 album helped to establish singing pianist Dr. John (alias Mac Rebennack, alias Malcolm John Rebennack Jr.) as a jazz performer. He had previously made his name as a bluesy rocker from New Orleans with an interest in voodoo. If you doubt his credentials as a jazzman (and you won't find him in many jazz reference books), just look at the company he keeps on this CD, including such notable jazz musicians as Steve Gadd, Dave Sanborn and Ronnie Cuber.

Of course, he never lost that typical New Orleans swirl on the piano and that gritty singing voice which seems to anticipate the similar vocal style of Tom Waits. Of course, New Orleans is the fabled "birthplace of jazz", so it was natural for Dr. John (born in New Orleans in 1941) to have jazz in his soul - as well as soul in his jazz. Anyway, the result is an album which will appeal equally to traditional Dr. John devotees and jazz fans.

The use of background strings on tracks like Rain tends to make them lush and sentimental but the good doctor's robust vocals keep things earthy. And the blues element which is at the heart of his music dispels any possibility of this being "smooth jazz". The opening Dance the Night Away illustrates this: a down-home boogie-type number with interesting interpolations from the brass, arranged (like all the tracks) by Dr. John and guitarist Hugh McCracken.

Street Side has a typical bass-drum thud from Steve Gadd on the third beat of every bar, tethering the music to the pavement. Wild Honey is a catchy piece of jazz-rock which incites the listener to dance or at least tap the feet. Rain is gentler: a slow-burner with added class supplied by Dave Sanborn's distinctive alto sax, soloing radiantly. Snake Eyes is more in New Orleans swaying style, with gutsy guitar and Dr John's vocals telling it like it is.

Fire of Love also sways with that characteristic New Orleans rhythm. Sonata/He's a Hero turns the spotlight on Dr John's piano, with strong swirling bass, before moving into irresistible jazz-rock-boogie. The closing title-track starts with luxurious strings backing Dr John's soulful piano, leading into a poignant song expressing late-night loneliness.

Whether you categorise Dr John as jazz, blues, rock, boogie or anything else, it actually encompasses all these (and more) to create a mix that simply invites you to lie back and listen.

Tony Augarde


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