Music News & Reviews

Critic's Pick: Dr. John, "Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch"

Critic's Pick

Dr. John

Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

Throughout the last half of a recording career, now nearing the half-century mark, there has been a striking duality to the music of Mac Rebennack, one far more distinct than the personality split dividing the famed New Orleans pianist and song stylist from his gris-gris shaman alter ego, Dr. John.

For instance, there is the thick voodoo funk and Crescent City psychedelia that has long defined much of Rebennack's work. That's the side Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys embraced and promoted as producer of the Grammy-winning 2011 Dr. John album, Locked Down. But Rebennack also is an expert interpreter of jazz-inclined standards, as witnessed by such keenly orchestrated crossover albums as 1989's In a Sentimental Mood (another Grammy winner) and 1999's Duke Ellington tribute Duke Elegant.

Rebennack returns to his interpretive strengths on Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, but he brings the party back to New Orleans. As the title implies, the recording honors Louis Armstrong. But the testimony will surprise Rebennack and Armstrong fans alike.

Ske-Dat-De-Dat is essentially a cross-generational summit where the instrumental voice of Armstrong is channeled through the playing of several stylistically and culturally diverse trumpeters, including Cuban-born dynamo Arturo Sandoval (who adds distinguished sass to Rebennack's warm, reverential reading of Memories of You) and fellow New Orleans ambassador Terence Blanchard (who co-pilots the churchy grace of Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams with help from the Blind Boys of Alabama).

The vocal support is just as spirited and varied, although one should approach the hip-hop accents of Mike Ladd and Telmary Diaz on Mack the Knife and an Afro-Cuban drenched Tight Like This with open ears.

More traditionally minded is the surprisingly youthful singing of Bonnie Raitt on I've Got the World on a String. On an initial listen to the album without perusing the credits, I was convinced that Susan Tedeschi was the guest vocalist. Rebennack also merrily slings mud with Shemekia Copeland on the hysterical and super-funky Sweet Hunk o' Trash before the Dirty Dozen Brass Band joins in on the album-closing When You're Smiling to escort the ageless spirit of Satchmo back down Bourbon Street.

Walter Tunis | Contributing Music Critic