You never really know what you’re missing until it’s gone. Hurricane Katrina provided a sobering reminder of that adage by wiping out a city known for partying. New Orleans was also known for awesome food and music that stuck to your soul, be it jazz, Cajun, Zydeco, blues, rock, or any combination thereof. One of the easiest responses to the call of New Orleans music is Mac Rebennack, better known to all as Dr. John. Influenced by New Orleans luminaries such as Professor Longhair, the Doctor has plied his musical trade since the ’70s, when his one flashpoint hit, “Right Place, Wrong Time”, gave him enough national cred to carry on whatever musical whims suited him.
His ventures into jazz and (easy listening) standards were a change of pace, but Rebennack is most at home when he plies his “Hoodoo Voodoo” sounds into our respective cerebral cortexes. And those who have seen the live Doctor know that he’s most at home in New Orleans. So as a part of what Hyena Records is terming “The Rebennack Chronicles”, tapes from a 1989 show at New Orleans’ famous club Tipitina’s have been spiffed up and released under the obvious title Right Place, Right Time: Live at Tipitina’s Mardi Gras ’89. Ironically, the most obvious omission is the song given the sideways smirk in the title; there’s no “Right Place, Wrong Time” to be found here.
What you will find here is 10 heapin’ helpings of New Orleans musical gumbo (sorry for the clichés), served up by the Doctor. The proceedings get off to an appropriate swing with “Junco Partner”, where the upbeat John is happily upstaged by a smokin’ sax solo by Amadee Castenell. “Renegade” struts like a proud rooster, while “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” goes the other way into spooky territory.
The rest of the disc falls into the same ranges of funk, voodoo, and N’Awlins soul. “Wang Dang Doodle” gets a funkified treatment, while “Let the Good Times Roll” smokes. All in all, it’s an easy listen, with every song of the 10 on Right Place, Right Time: Live at Tipitina’s — Mardi Gras ’89 a good one. Alas, some of the Doctor’s biggest hits are missing (no “Iko Iko”?). The best thing about all this is that Rebennack still sounds just as good today as he did 17 years ago. For this disc, it’s all about the setting and the mood, and Dr. John never felt as at home as he did in his birthplace of New Orleans. Here’s hoping that the city gets rebuilt to its former self, and that Dr. John is able to sit in and do a few nights at Tipitina’s in 2006. And I’m getting greedy here in hoping that he releases something like that, too.