Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Album Review: Dr. John - Things Happen That Way

Dr. John 
Things Happen That Way
****and1/2 out of *****

The final studio album from Dr. John is this posthumous collection titled Things Happen That Way, which is being billed as the good doctor's country album. While there are covers of classic country tracks, the album is more than that. Mac Rebennack's roots are planted deep in his hometown of New Orleans and those percolating sounds color even the most stoic country laments and some excellent new originals.

Inspired by his love for the classic Louisiana Hayride, Dr. John recorded the tracks in 2018 with a core group of guitarist Shane Theriot (who also co-produced), bassist Will Lee, keyboardists Jon Cleary and David Torkanowsky, and drummer Carlo Nuccio. 

The players take on a molasses slow cover of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away". The glacially paced track (and perhaps the weakest here) starts out with Dr. John solo but soon swells with electro keys from Torkanowsky, horns arranged by Mark Mullins and gorgeous backing vocals from Jolynda "Kiki" Chapman and Yolanda Robinson.  

Nelson himself shows up to duet with Mac on "Old Time Religion" which is more relaxed and better as  a tambourine, guitar and Cleary's organ gets the group loose around Herlin Riley's drumming with Chapman and Robinson's backing vocals again shining next to the legendary leads.  An ominous swagger gains steam on the groups take of Hank Williams classic "Rambling Man" which ends with banjo while another Williams tune "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" is the most stripped down country tune on the album with Rebennack sounding gassed vocally which sits well with the tunes lyrical bleakness. 

Guests Lukas Nelson + The Promise of the Real arrive to try to revamp the classic "I Walk On Guilded Splinters" and while it is a perfectly serviceable cover, the professionalism erodes the mysticism of the original. Better is the take on the Traveling Wilbury's classic "End Of The Line" which slows down the pace and brings in horns and the vocal stylings of Aaron Neville and Katie Pruitt to deliver a smile inducing, sing/dance along New Orleans based cover. 

The second half of the album features three new originals from Dr. John, co-written by Theriot. "Holy Water" is a slow, looping affair with excellent guitar from Theriot, piano from Mac and more sweet vocals from Pruitt while "Sleeping Dogs Best Left Alone" is a funky strut that picks up the pace with Tony Hall on bass and Theriot's wah-wah moving along. The catchiest of the new tunes is the easy rolling "Give Myself A Good Talkin' To" which has classic Dr. John lines like, "If you don't know what you're up against/Better know what you're down for" stacking up with the best of the Mac's back catalog. 

The album wraps on the gorgeous take on "Guess Things Happen That Way", the Jack Clement penned tune made famous by Johnny Cash. This gorgeous arraignment is warm and enveloping as Rebennack's vocals perfectly sum up the album, reminding of Warren Zevon's finale "Keep Me In Your Heart" from his posthumous album "The Wind". A fantastic cut, wrapping up an excellent album from Dr. John and crew.

After passing away in 2019, there will probably be more albums to surface, but as it stands, Things Happen That Way is a fitting and strong send off for a truly unique American artist.     
RtBE are huge fans of Dr. John, even ranking his best studio efforts for Glide when he passed. This one would be close to the top (at first blush, we will say 4th or 5th) 

Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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